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2017-11-07 17:41
By Kwon Bong-woon



The Shin Kori nuclear reactors project near the southeastern port city of Ulsan has been one of the most divisive issues in South Korea recently, pitting advocates of President Moon Jae-in’s nuclear-free Korea vision against its vocal critics in almost every sphere of society, from politics and academia to industries and sectors. Given the importance of the government’s communication with the public, we need to seek dialogue with and meaningful compromise from the government when the nation faces great conflicts. President Moon introduced the concept of “deliberative democracy” to resolve social conflicts on the Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear reactors.

Deliberative democracy is a form of democracy in which deliberation is central to decision making. It adopts elements of both consensus making and majority rule.

Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democracy in that it is based on the notion that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of legitimacy for the law. Deliberative democracy is compatible with both representative and direct democracy. It is deliberative democracy that allows citizens to make their own decision during a discussion. The Shin Kori jury was the first jury that the government formed of ordinary citizens to determine a public policy.

Democracy is perfected when people have the right to discuss controversial issues. The majority of a jury comprising 471 members of the public sets an important precedent for the resolution of controversial issues. But this jury did not include nuclear experts from academia or the industry. We need wisdom that will lead to a social consensus for big and controversial issues. After a series of debates, the jury reached its final decision on the fate of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear reactors with a vote.

Some 59.5 percent of the jury voted for resumption of the nuclear reactor construction, and 40.5 percent opposed it. The 19-point gap between the support and opposition was well beyond the margin of error of 3.6 percent points.

President Moon has said his administration will follow the state commission’s decision “no matter what.” The state commission concluded that it is reasonable to finish building the two reactors after a three-month deliberation. The experts called it a positive move for Korea's democracy. It is clear that decision making should be able to convince people about government policy. The state commission recommended to the government the resumption of construction of Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear reactors. Construction of the two reactors will resume nearly three months after it was stopped on June 27 on President Moon’s order. But the three-month suspension caused an estimated 100 billion won ($88.3 million) in losses. Further, the resumption of the construction of the nuclear reactors is expected to delay President Moon’s new energy policy of replacing nuclear energy sources with cleaner, more sustainable ones like in many countries. Such a swift response from Cheong Wa Dae came after the president earlier said he would respect the outcome of the deliberation, noting that it would advance the concept of deliberative democracy and the efforts to shift toward renewable energy.

The outcome of the deliberation is a message for the government to proceed with its nuclear-free policy. I am glad that the jury made a right choice, and I am glad to have witnessed the importance of sharing the right information. I hope to see more of such public deliberation. Democracy is perfected when people have the right to discuss controversial issues.


The writer lives in Dongjak-gu in Seoul. He can be reached via email at kbw8234664@naver.com.


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