Vicarious nuclear jitters

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Vicarious nuclear jitters

The technical glitch that led to a temporary shutdown at the country’s oldest nuclear reactor may, as authorities assure us, not be a big deal. Operations at the 33-year-old Gori-1 reactor in Gijang County, northeastern Busan, were suspended late Tuesday because of an electrical circuit problem. Gori-1 is now under inspection.

The cooling system is functioning normally and there is no risk of a radiation leak, but the public is already hypersensitive about safety risks following the nuclear crisis in Japan.

The problem is that the public is ready to dismiss assurances from authorities about nuclear reactor safety because of the vicarious experience of Japan’s once-bitten-twice-shy population.

Nuclear reactor policy can no longer win the argument solely on scientific and economic grounds. Trust is the issue now.

The accident at the 33-year-old Gori-1 reactor caught the spotlight because it occurred at a sensitive time, when Japanese authorities are still battling the near-meltdown and radiation leaks at aged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the wake of a gigantic earthquake and crippling tsunami a month ago.

Fear of radiation contamination has led to a ban on imports of Japanese food products. The public doubts not only the Japanese but the Korean government on nuclear safety.

A minor technical glitch immediately brought to mind the catastrophic scenes in Fukushima. Many have raised concerns about the country’s oldest reactor, which was given a 10-year life extension in 2007 despite protests from environmental groups.

Authorities should not brush aside public concerns and skepticism purely because scientists say all is okay. As a country devoid of natural resources, we cannot forsake the cheaper and cleaner energy from nuclear power. The government therefore needs strong public backing on nuclear power.

This it has to earn. Authorities must do the utmost to protect Korea from Japanese radiation. It has to build confidence in our own reactors through aggressive campaigning and honest explanations.

It must thoroughly investigate the Gori-1 accident and come up with feasible and reliable measures to prevent further problems. All these procedures should be shared with the public to gain credibility.

Authorities are dealing with a public more acutely sensitive to nuclear policy following Japan’s crisis. Their priorities must be ensuring our safety and convincing us that they are doing so steadfastly and honestly.
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