Commission on nuclear plants stirs controversy

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Commission on nuclear plants stirs controversy

The launch of a commission on Tuesday to gather public opinion on the fate of the partially-constructed Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear power plants has been drawing backlash from lawmakers and the public over concerns that it does not include energy experts and that the survey period is too short.

While Hong Nam-ki, the minister of government policy coordination, explained Tuesday upon the launch of the nine-member commission that the members were selected in order to carry out its mandate in an “objective, neutral” manner, lawmakers of the People’s Party were skeptical about its potential neutrality, with some even questioning whether it has legally binding force.

Rep. Son Kum-ju, spokesman of the People’s Party, said during a policy meeting Wednesday, “The commission to gather public opinions does not have any expertise or legal standing, nor is it representative of the people.”

He added, “The People’s Party can’t help but be suspicious that this commission is just for show, a means to shift responsibility on halting the construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6.”

Rep. Kim Kyung-jin, a member of the parliamentary Science, ICT, Future Planning Committee, raised his concern in a radio interview Wednesday that instead of such objectivity, “the procedure and actual content may be regulated” by the government.

He added, “This is an issue of general safety of nuclear energy so there has to be at least a minimum number of experts on the actual topic to explain about it.”

A group of Liberty Korea Party lawmakers advocating for the completion of the Shin Kori reactors likewise held a press conference Tuesday, and in a statement said it “could not justify the legitimacy of the committee,” adding it was an “ultimately ambiguous organ to carry the orders of President Moon Jae-in.”

It also said it did not know “under what criteria” the members of the commission were selected, adding that they did not have the right kind of expertise.

But on Wednesday, the Blue House defended the commission’s mandate.

A senior Blue House official said, “Because we ended up excluding a dozen or so experts who have been opposed by organizations either for or against nuclear energy, such a nuclear energy expert was not included. Experts’ feedback will be collected using various methods.”

The Office for Government Policy Coordination named Kim Ji-hyung, a progressive former Supreme Court Justice, as chairman of the commission, which includes experts from four fields: conflict management, humanities and society, science and technology, and surveys and statistics.

They are supposed to canvass public opinion over the next three months to determine whether to suspend the construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear plants.

This panel will select a group of citizen jurors, who are to make a recommendation on whether to permanently halt construction of the reactors by Oct. 21.

The government said it plans to abide by this recommendation.

The state-run Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corporation (KHNP) made a decision to temporarily suspend construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear plants earlier this month after President Moon called for a temporary halt to building the two reactors last month, in line with his initiative to wean Korea off of nuclear energy.

Some 1.6 trillion won ($1.4 billion) has been spent so far on construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 reactors, which are nearly 30 percent completed.

BY SARAH KIM, WIE MOON-HEE [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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