Nuclear power researchers feel ignored at 60th celebration

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Nuclear power researchers feel ignored at 60th celebration


From right, Mun Mi-ock, the first vice minister of the Ministry of Science and ICT, Park Won-seok, the president of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, Daejeon Mayor Heo Tae-jeong and Won Kwang-yeon, chairman of National Research Council of Science & Technology, participate in the 60th anniversary celebration for the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute held in National Science Museum in Daejeon on Tuesday. [KIM SEONG-TAE]

The heroes of atomic energy are feeling underappreciated.

On Tuesday, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (Kaeri) commemorated the 60th anniversary of its founding at the National Science Museum in Daejeon.

About 600 attended.

Amano Yukiya, director general of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), delivered a congratulatory message by video link, saying that the institute has been contributing in many ways to the IAEA and to the world.

But Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon did not attend. You Young-min, minister of Ministry of Science and ICT, was also absent. The highest ranking attendee was Mun Mi-ock, a vice minister of the Ministry of Science and ICT.

She left in the middle of the event.

Outside, the lack of appreciation was particularly obvious. Civic organizations shouted antinuclear slogans and carried signs reading “Deep-rooted evil: Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute. Shut it down.”

Founded in 1959, Kaeri held its birthday celebration amid government inattention and antinuclear protests. The event was much smaller than the 50th anniversary bash.

Lee Ju-ho, the minister of education, science and technology, came to the 2009 celebration. At another ceremony commemorating a half century of atomic energy held in April the same year, Lee Myung-bak, the former president of Korea, delivered a video message. A total of 100 high-ranking officials, including ministers, participated in the event.

“The number of employees from the institute who received the meritorious order and medals of honor for their contributions to achieving independence in atomic energy at the 50th birthday was 11, including former and current employees,” said a source from the institute. “The number of employees who received the presidential citation was three, and the number receiving a citation from the prime minister was four.”

Vice minister Mun Mi-ock seemed to be conscious of the negative atmosphere at the event.

“We are not mistreating the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute,” she said. “We are going to separately reward them on Atomic Energy Day, on Dec. 27.”

She praised the 60-year history of the institute, pointed out the safety issues in recent years and said that she hoped the institute would develop based on people’s trust.

“At a festive time, rather than making congratulatory remarks, she just made excuses,” said Kim Si-hwan, former deputy director of Kaeri. “It was lame, and it would have been better not saying it at all.”

During a presentation and debate on the achievements of Kaeri after the ceremony was finished on Tuesday, the mood was quiet but determined.

“Investment in the institute over the past 40 years has generated 164 trillion won [$143.9 billion]” of value, said Ahn Doo-hyun, a senior research fellow at the Science & Technology Policy Institute. “The effect on the economy compared to the amount invested is 15.9 times.”

Hahn Do-hee, director of the IAEA’s nuclear power division, argued that atomic energy will continue to be a major source of energy to conserve the environment and reduce carbon.

Kim Si-hwan cautiously added that the institute is essential in the development of the atomic energy business and has built a competitive supply chain for atomic energy.

“If this base is destroyed by a policy that aims to phase out nuclear power, Korea can no longer lead atomic energy in the future, so the nuclear phase-out should be eliminated by all means,” warned Kim.

A Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) professor who requested anonymity expressed sorrow.

“I don’t know why we, who have put effort in day and night to build independence in energy, have to be treated as a deep-rooted evil like this.”

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