A public debate committee on the construction of the Shin Kori Nuclear Power Units 5 & 6 started with its first meeting in Gwanghwamun, downtown Seoul, on July 31, but controversy flared up early over the committee’s scope of responsibility and who has the final say.
Government and ruling party officials defined the scope of the committee’s authority and responsibility on July 28. Chairman Kim Ji-hyung of the committee, a former chief justice, also issued a statement apologizing for making remarks deemed “confusing.” In the statement, Chairman Kim said there were reportedly discrepancies between government and the committee. But cleared the air, saying details on how to design and operate the committee for deliberations are yet to be decided.
Spokesman Lee Yoon-seok of the committee said one day earlier, “We’re going to make a recommendation, not deciding on ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” He was apparently referring to confusion over who has the final say over the issue. The government initially announced that the committee had the final say over the matter.
Chairman Kim said, “The key of the public debate process is to deliberate the agenda.” He noted the key function of the committee is to deliver to the government the outcomes the committee gained by collecting the general public’s views during deliberations. Differing from spokesman Lee’s comments, Chairman Kim used the phrase ? “delivering outcomes to the government” — indicating that he may have flip-flopped over his committee’s position.
Cheong Wa Dae Spokesman Park Soo-hyun told reporters there was no fixed decision on the character and function of the committee, which may have caused some misunderstanding. He added that the President Moon Jae-in government will steadfastly follow any outcomes the committee decides and delivers.
The ruling Minju Party of Korea (MPK) said the government and the committee were on the same page over who has the final say over the issue and the scope of responsibility of the committee. Rep. Hong Ik-pyo of the MPK and the ruling party leader of the National Assembly Trade, Industry and Energy, SME/Venture Committee, said in a radio interview that the government and the committee do not have differing views.
The committee will deliver its decision to the government, which will accept them.
But some ruling party lawmakers made comments that were critical of the process, criticizing the committee for dragging its feet over the issue. Rep. Byun Jae-il of the MPK said it was “nosense.” In principle, the government has final say over policies, and they are to be implemented after the cabinet approves them.
But he said, “(Cheong Wa Dae and the government) gave up the final say and handed over it to the committee.” Rep. Byun said Chairman Kim of the committee was irresponsible for saying that his committee would suggest recommendations, and called for his resignation.
Some analysts cited amateurism over the controversy. Prof. Han Kyu-seop of Seoul National University said the government hurriedly handed over the final say without the understanding of the public debate process, and it’s not appropriate for the committee to touch on the final say without engaging in in-depth discussions.
Government’s Inconsistent Anti-Nuclear Policies
Doosan Group Park Chung-won said Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction Co., the supplier of reactors and major components of the Shin Kori Nuclear Power Units 5 & 6, was expected to suffer a severe setback in sales from the government policy to wean the nation off nuclear power.
Chairman Park also told President Moon, as one of the business leaders who participated in a meeting at Cheong Wa Dae on July 27, that Doosan would have to explore more overseas business opportunities to recoup losses from domestic nuclear sales. President Moon said the government will fully support overseas market exploration.
President Moon supports nuclear projects overseas, but not in Korea, which have some people questioning his principles.
MOTIE Minister Paik Un-gyu had a similar view of the issue. Minister Paik stressed the President Moon government’s anti-nuclear policy and a shift in the paradigm to clean, safe energy during his appearance at the National Assembly Steering Committee on July 26. But he said the government was not opposed to the exportation of nuclear power units.
He made the comments in reply to a question from Rep. Park Jae-ho of the MPK. Rep. Park, who said that the former president Lee Myung-bak successfully exported four nuclear power units to the United Arab Emirates and asked if the government is opposed to exporting nuclear power.