SEOUL • South Korea has decided to resume construction of two nuclear plants, reversing a campaign promise by the new President and frustrating those who want an end to nuclear power in the country.
In the months before his election, Mr Moon Jae In had vowed not to allow any new reactors. When he made that pledge, five nuclear power plants were under construction, three near completion. Mr Moon said he would scrap the other two - Shin Kori nuclear reactors No 5 and 6 in the south-eastern village of Ulju - as part of a plan to eliminate nuclear energy and switch to natural gas and renewables.
The town's 9,000 residents were angry, and experts warned that getting rid of nuclear power - which accounts for 30 per cent of South Korea's energy - would boost electricity costs.
But since Mr Moon took office in May, the fate of those two reactors has become the centre of a raging debate over nuclear power in South Korea, and anti-nuclear groups were quick to condemn the decision on Friday to resume work on two nuclear power plants.
Opponents of nuclear power, who have gained momentum in South Korea since the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 and supported Mr Moon during his campaign, wanted him to block the two reactors. But conservative media outlets and politicians, as well as the nuclear industry itself, have been just as vocal, insisting that nuclear remained a cheap, clean and reliable source of energy for South Korea, which produces neither crude oil nor natural gas.
In June, Mr Moon proposed an independent panel to study public opinion on the issue and make a recommendation.
Opponents of nuclear power, who have gained momentum in South Korea since the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 and supported Mr Moon during his campaign, wanted him to block the two reactors.
The panel worked with 471 citizens and conducted extensive surveys. On Friday, it endorsed a return to construction. Three-fifths of the panel supported the projects, while the rest were opposed.
Mr Moon's office said it would honour the recommendation.
Some villagers opposed to nuclear power who had gathered in front of a government building on Friday cried when they heard the panel's decision. Civic groups campaigning against nuclear energy later said they respected its recommendation but lamented the influence of pro-nuclear groups which have carried out extensive publicity campaigns in recent weeks, promoting the benefits of nuclear power and warning that a phaseout could damage the economy.
"After 40 years of nuclear power, special interest groups connected to the nuclear power industry have taken root everywhere in South Korean society, blinding the eyes of the people," the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements said in a statement.
NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST