Gov’t sets timeline for nuclear reactor inquiry

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Gov’t sets timeline for nuclear reactor inquiry

The first public opinion poll on whether to continue a controversial nuclear reactor project is likely to begin in late August or early September, a slight delay from the government’s original plan to start earlier this month.

The Office of Government Policy Coordination, which falls under the prime minister’s purview, announced Tuesday evening that it would accept bids from polling firms between Aug. 18 and 22. It will then select a contractor within three days to conduct a survey on public opinion surrounding the Shin Kori 5 and 6 reactors, whose construction has been temporarily halted by President Moon Jae-in while a commission deliberates on their fate. The public opinion poll is part of the commission’s assessment.

The government has allocated 4.6 billion won ($4 million) for the commission’s work, and up to 2.5 billion won will go to the contracted survey company. The government has set a deadline of Oct. 21 for the final assessment.

Construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 reactors in Ulsan has been something of a political football for President Moon and his opponents. Moon has pledged to steer the country away from nuclear energy by shutting down facilities, while opposition lawmakers have argued that phasing out nuclear power will raise utility bills and limit Korea’s export of nuclear technology.

During a cabinet meeting on June 27, the administration decided to temporarily suspend construction of the two reactors and designated a nine-member commission to review the issue. Normally, the government takes 40 days to find a contractor, but the Office of Government Policy Coordination lowered it to 10, citing the urgency of the matter.

The labor union of Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, which manages the country’s nuclear power plants, residents near the construction site and nuclear energy researchers have been particularly vocal supporters of the reactor project. They filed another lawsuit in the Seoul Administrative Court on Tuesday asking the court to cancel the government’s public assessment process.

The plaintiffs argued the commission did not have a legal basis to decide the fate of important state-run projects like nuclear power plants, saying energy policies should be decided by the National Assembly.

Union members vowed not to follow any decision coming from the commission, insisting it would not be fair on the issue. They believe the commission will lean in favor of Moon. The union plans to file more lawsuits, possibly moving up to the Constitutional Court.

Residents of Ulsan are continuing their protest against the government’s decision, concerned that it might have a negative impact on the region’s economy. The labor union said many workers could lose their jobs and accused Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power and the government of deliberating on the issue without their consultation.

Reflecting the urgency of the matter, the commission in its contractor guidelines said the selected firm should call survey respondents more than 10 times if they don’t answer the phone at home. The commission plans to have the agency poll 20,000 people nationwide on whether they agree or disagree with the permanent closure of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 reactors. It expects to have the results within 20 days.

After the survey, the commission will select a panel of citizens to make a recommendation on the matter and submit it to the government by Oct. 21.


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