[NOTEBOOK]Give up Wido, start from scratchAnother fiasco is in the queue.
After rejections at Anmyeon and Guleop islands, the nuclear waste treatment plant project is about to meet yet another failure at Wido. The government’s hands have been tied for the last 45 days, faced with a fierce “uprising” of Buan county residents.
It’s deja vu, bringing back memories of Anmyeon island in the fall of 1990. Locals staged violent demonstrations, crying “anti-nuclear” and “preservation of the ecosystem.” Arson cases threatened the local community, policemen were beaten by protesters and county officials were stripped and abused. Students protested by boycotting classes. After all the cost and sacrifice, the government gave up the Anmyeon island site.
Guleop island was designated the second candidate in 1995, and it was a nightmare all over again. When the small island off Incheon with a population of only 12 was named, the government calculated that the site selection would meet relatively little resistance.
But consequent reaction proved the government’s prediction was far from reality. Teamed up with neighbors, Guleop island residents reacted with fierce demonstrations, and college students in the Incheon region even occupied the mayor’s office. The crisis ended as the island was found to be inappropriate for a radioactive facility because of active faul lines, but the government had lost public confidence.
The third site candidate, Wido, has had the sum of all crises. In addition to the arsons and mass assault on the head of the county government, more than 70 percent of students have refused to come to school for a month since the fall semester began. Senior citizens are determined to defend their hometown from the nuclear facility for future generations. Students say they will not go back to school unless the project is completely overturned.
Now it seems there is no other option than to give up trying to change their minds. Visit the community’s Web site, www.nonukebuan.or.kr, and you will see that their resistance is a desperate struggle to defend their lives and livelihoods. The so-called “education of consciousness” of environmental organizations contributed to the awakening of the residents.
The government stubbornly wants to pursue the project as planned, but we need to face reality. The Blue House recently announced it would talk to the locals in person, but belated discussion might not be sufficient.
The Buan project was destined to fail, and this is attributable to four factors. To begin with, the government failed to calm residents’ instinctive fear of a nuclear facility. It skipped the process of seeking their approval, and the government’s compensation offer did not meet their expectations. Moreover, the government failed to keep the local residents away from the influence of environmental activists, who were determined to oppose any kind of nuclear facility.
The government blundered in public relations, from advocating the safety of the facility to offering attractive compensation packages. The helm of the project was controlled by the hands of environmentalists, not the government officials.
Let’s look at the classic example of Rokkashomura in Japan. In the mid-80s, a nuclear waste treatment plant, uranium enrichment facility and spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility were built in the coastal village northeast of Tokyo, forming a nuclear complex. Now the village receives over 100,000 visitors annually, and there has not been one case of an accident or a disturbance. The locals enjoy quiet, peaceful lives and a well-installed infrastructure of transportation and welfare. The average income in Rokkashomura is well over the national average.
Behind this success lay the consistent public relations efforts and the investment of the Japanese government. The government persuaded the locals that the complex was not dangerous and would instead contribute to the development of the region. In the discussions and negotiations between the government and the locals, all external interventions were strictly excluded.
Let’s forget about Wido. We do not have time to waste in a hopeless project. Give up Wido and look for a new candidate from scratch. But this time, the selection needs to be made with extra care.
Choose a group of candidates, and have the environmental activists take part in persuading the locals. Let the activists advocate their alternatives.
The Wido crisis has proved that there will be no solution for this project unless the government comes up with a strategy to persuade the local residents over the rhetoric of the environmentalists.
* The writer is social affairs news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hyun