[Viewpoint] Power of positive thinkingSome of the most desirable positions in the Korean job market are with the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. The company selects 300 entry-level workers next week. Competition for these positions is so intense that the questions on the company’s previous entrance exam are circulating around the Internet and job seekers are doing what they can to see them in advance of the test. The company also released its blueprint for the next three years, promising to hire 1,000 interns and 3,000 nuclear specialists. This is a significant shift from just a few months ago, when the company hired just 10 of 390 interns around the Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) holiday last year.
The atmosphere at the company’s Gori nuclear reactors 1 to 4 in the southern part of the peninsula has always been warlike, enhanced by placards bearing slogans such as “Nuclear is death” and “It’s time for the 30-year-old nuclear reactors to retire.”
That is not the case at Shingori, the world’s largest nuclear reactor construction site, however, which sees a large number of foreign visitors. A series of Korean-built reactors will be located here, and it is the only place in the world where the entire nuclear reactor construction process can be seen.
In Korea, only six universities offer nuclear engineering degree programs. The programs have not been popular, and the universities have each had to cut enrollment by 30 percent. But that has changed with recent advances in Korea’s nuclear power industry and the country’s recent success in winning a contract to build nuclear power plants for the United Arab Emirates. In the three weeks since the U.A.E. deal was announced, Korea has seen its nuclear power industry go through a dramatic turnaround. More good news is expected from Jordan, Turkey and the United States.
In winning the U.A.E. deal, President Lee Myung-bak’s charisma and decision-making power were truly on display.
He also suggested that Korea’s special forces help train the royal guards of the U.A.E. and pass on their knowledge of security procedures. In return, the U.A.E.’s crown prince responded that the deal is the will of God, rather than Allah, taking Lee’s Protestant religion into account. It was a perfect negotiation.
Still, the true competitiveness of Korea’s nuclear power industry can be seen through history. The turning point came in 1986. That year, international coal prices plummeted to their lowest point in history, prompting skepticism about the economic efficiency of nuclear power generation. In April of that year, the Chernobyl explosion took place.
At the time, Korea made a decision to go against the global trend in the nuclear energy field. In June of that year, the country decided to develop a Korean-style reactor in cooperation with Combustion Engineering, which was a leading energy production company in the United States.
It is not difficult to imagine the hardships the Korean researchers faced, but they have not spoken much about it.
“We just went to an isolated island in the United States without any promises,” one researcher said, before stopping himself. “It’s just a story about the past.”
The researchers have said their biggest pressure was not related to technology. They said that times were toughest between 1990 and 1995. Many left the team.
“At the time, the National Assembly grilled the people working on the nuclear power generation project on a routine basis. We were criticized so severely that it was unbearable,” another researcher said.
“It really hurt when the environmentalists condemned us,” yet another researcher said.
These are the people who built the foundation of Korea’s nuclear power industry, but they have gone back into hiding again, apparently out of habit.
In his book “The End of Work,” Jeremy Rifkin follows the Marxian path. He wrote that the development of science and technology replaces manpower, adding that the globalization of production and labor also results in a lack of jobs.
Rifkin, however, is different from Marx because he notes the power of positive thinking.
Looking back on the history of capitalism, industry almost always appears as the relief pitcher. The industrial revolution and the changes in the rail, electronics, chemical, auto and information technology industries have saved capitalism again and again. Rifkin said an enormous number of jobs will be created when fossil fuels are replaced by new energy sources.
No one knows how much Korea’s nuclear power plant industry can achieve. But we hope it can help resolve the youth unemployment crisis. Amid the political mudslinging over the Sejong City project, the potential for the nuclear power plant industry has grown.
We have forgotten the researchers’ sweat and tears, but we should thank them for reminding us of the power of positive thinking in reinvigorating an industry.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Cheol-ho