A democratic decisionA commission assigned to canvass public opinion on the government’s proposal to permanently halt the construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear reactors ended its three-month mission and recommended the government finish the reactors, which are nearly 30 percent complete. Its recommendation was based on a final poll of 471 members of the public who investigated this issue as a panel. The final poll showed that 59.5 percent favoring resumption of the construction and 40.5 percent supported a permanent halt. The government, which suspended construction in July as a part of long-term nuclear phase-out campaign, said it would order construction resumed next week.
The finding result was somewhat unexpected. Other polls found the public mixed on the issue. But the panel listened to the pros and cons of nuclear reactors from experts and deliberated on the project in a comprehensive way. Support for resuming the construction grew as the panel did its work. Members in their 20s and 30s were particularly brought around. The result is a proof of the maturing of democracy in our society. It paves the way for more members of the general public participating in policy debates that deeply affect everyone’s lives.
The recommendation of the panel also has changed the way politicians can deal with campaign promises. In the past, politicians believed they must keep true to campaign promises and rarely bothered to check whether the public really supported them. As result, society has paid a heavy price. The four-rivers restoration project, a signature campaign promise of President Lee Myung-bak, was pushed ahead despite controversy. Just because the president won the election doesn’t mean his pledges really have the approval of the entire population. Weaning Korea off nuclear power was also controversial. The president was right to ask for public opinion to be determined in a concrete way. The government and ruling party should make it practice to check with the public on sensitive policies.
It would have cost 2.8 trillion won ($2.5 billion) to dismantle the incomplete Shin Kori plants. Many jobs would have been lost in the cancellation of the construction contract. The nuclear reactor industry can also confidently pursue overseas bids now: It feared it may not be able to sell a technology that was shunned by its own people. Still we cannot ignore that fact that some 40 percent were still against the construction even after long deliberation. That suggests lingering suspicion about the safety of nuclear reactors. The industry should upgrade safety procedures to ease public concerns. Experts also should continue to explain the reactor technology to the general public.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 21, Page 30.