Citizens recommend completion of Korean units

20 October 2017

Construction of units 5 and 6 of South Korea's Shin Kori nuclear power plant looks set to resume after an independent panel today recommended completion of the project. Work on the units - about 30% complete - was suspended in July after President Moon Jae-in issued an administrative order to halt their construction.

Shin Kori 5 and 6 - 460 (KHNP)
An artistic impression of how Shin Kori 5 and 6 could look (Image: KHNP)

President Moon was one of seven candidates in the May presidential election who signed an agreement for a "common policy" for phasing out the country's use of nuclear energy. At a ceremony on 19 June to mark the permanent shutdown of Kori 1, he said plans for new power reactors will be cancelled and the operating periods of existing units will be limited to 40 years. At that time, Moon said he would reach a "social consensus" as soon as possible on whether the construction of Shin Kori 5 and 6 will proceed.

The construction of Shin Kori 5 and 6 was approved by South Korea's nuclear regulator last June. The pouring of first safety-related concrete for the reactors had been due to start this year. The 1400 MWe units are scheduled to begin operating in March 2021 and 2022, respectively.

However, in July Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) decided to suspend construction work on the two APR1400 units for a three-month period as soon as a government-appointed committee was formed to discuss the country's nuclear energy policy. The company said it expected the temporary suspension to cost it about KRW100 billion ($88 million) for maintaining equipment and the construction site.

The Citizens' Jury convened to determine the fate of Shin Kori 5 and 6, after months of deliberation, has today recommended that construction of the two units should resume. The panel of 471 randomly-selected citizens voted 59.5% in favour of construction proceeding.

"Surveys conducted during the deliberation process showed that more citizens were in favour of restarting construction," head of the commission Kim Ji-hyung was cited as saying by the Korea JoongAng Daily. "The number of those in support increased across all age groups as they conducted additional surveys. The increase rate was particularly acute among those in their 20s and 30s."

While the commission voted to continue construction of Shin Kori 5 and 6, the majority were also in favour of President Moon's proposal to reduce South Korea's dependence on nuclear energy. 53.2% of them said they support the move to cut the country's reliance on nuclear energy, while 35.5% said they support the current level of reliance. 9.7% of the panel said the country should expand its use of nuclear energy.

Park Soo-hyun, a spokesperson from the presidential office, said the panel's recommendation would be respected. "Based on the recommendations, the government will do its best to ensure that follow-up measures are implemented without any disruption," she said in a statement.

Media reports suggest President Moon will deliver a construction resumption order at a cabinet meeting on 24 October.

South Korea has 24 power reactors in operation with a combined generating capacity of 22,505 MWe. Together they provide about one-third of the country's electricity.

Decision welcomed

Kim Kwang-ho, chairman of the Korean Nuclear Society, said, "I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all those who have supported nuclear power and have been active in the field, and who have supported us from outside the nuclear power system."

He added, "This was an opportunity to see how important scientific and objective information was. We also believe that the responsibilities of the Citizens' Participation Committees that make the decisions provided a good insight into the correct facts. I think the change in opinion during the deliberation process shows that nuclear workers should make efforts to reach more and more people."

Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association, said: "This is a very positive decision for South Korea. It will enable the South Korean nuclear sector to get on with reducing climate emissions and supporting national industrial competitiveness."

Noting that Moon proposed his nuclear energy policy without any consultation with local businesses or experts, Rising added: "We hope that going forward the country's political leaders will commit to comprehensive consultation processes and listen to its energy, environment and economics experts in order to evaluate the country's energy policy. Nuclear energy should play a leading role as part of a resilient and clean electricity generation mix that reduces South Korea's dependence on fossil fuels."

Michael Shellenberger, president of the Environmental Progress research and policy organisation, praised the citizens' jury for "choosing wisdom over ideology". He noted, "The size of the victory was as unexpected as the victory itself ... The victory is proof that democratic citizen action can result in stunning pro-nuclear victories where they are least expected." Environmental Progress was one of a number of international groups who have urged President Moon to consider the climate and environmental impacts of phasing out the use of nuclear energy in the country.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News