‘Olympics’ of the nuclear industry gets a low profile

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‘Olympics’ of the nuclear industry gets a low profile

GYEONGJU, North Gyeongsang - The Biennial General Meeting (BGM) of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) kicked off in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, on Monday, bringing together some 500 nuclear industry experts and leaders from around the world - but the government kept the meeting’s profile very low.

The biennial event, held at the Hico Convention Center in Korea’s cultural capital some 340 kilometers (211 miles) southeast of Seoul, has the theme “Leading Nuclear Safety in a Changing World” and will run for six days. Speakers include Zhang Tao, president of China National Nuclear Power, Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association and Vincent de Rivaz, CEO of EDF, the French electricity utility.

On the first day of the event, speeches delivered in panel discussions were not provided to the press. Not a single placard was hung at the Hico building promoting the event. Entrance to the convention center was closely regulated. No press was allowed inside, not even a photographer, one security personnel said.

The secretive nature of the proceeding was surprising given the biennial event is often called the “Nuclear Power Olympics” for the scope of expertise and ideas presented. News reports said state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) was deliberately avoiding publicity because of the Moon Jae-in government’s attempt to wean Korea off nuclear power.

KHNP, the country’s largest electricity provider - it generates 31.5 percent of all electric power generated in Korea - issued a two-page press release a day before the opening.

Park Jin-heon, senior manager of the communications office at KHNP, said WANO gave it strict press guidelines to follow.

One of the BGM events is a trip to Korean nuclear power plants, which number 24 in total, starting Wednesday. But details as to which plants they will visit have been kept from the press.

The fact that Energy Minister Paik Un-gyu decided to skip the event fueled speculation that the government is trying to downplay the Nuclear Power Olympics. Lee Kwan-sup, president of the KHNP, decided to skip the opening day to attend a parliamentary audit at the National Assembly.

Moon has vowed to wean the country off nuclear- and coal-based energy sources for safety reasons.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]
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