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Shin Kori reactor suspension deepens conflict

By Park Jae-hyuk

The labor union at Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) has vowed an all-out struggle against the Moon Jae-in government following the company's decision to suspend construction of reactors 5 and 6 at the Shin Kori Nuclear Power Plant in Ulsan.

The KHNP union said it would take legal action to cancel the suspension and demanded an official meeting with President Moon.

"We will protest against the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, which requested the suspension to the KHNP," union leader Kim Byung-gi said during a rally in front of the construction site, Saturday.

Trade Minister Joo Hyung-hwan, who is in charge of the issue, has come under fire for remaining silent throughout a cabinet meeting on June 27, although he made it clear the reactors would be completed just a few months ago. ICT Minister Choi Yang-hee and Land Minister Kim Hyun-mee, both of whom are linked to the thorny issue, also reportedly said nothing during the cabinet meeting.

The union workers said they could not accept the hasty decision made by the board members and the ministers, who had supported construction under the previous administration. They also urged the board members to step down.

The KHNP board members suddenly approved suspension of the 8 trillion won ($7 billion) project in a meeting at the Suites Hotel in Gyeongju, South Gyeongsang Province, Friday.

The union members are considering filing an injunction with a court against the suspension and claiming damages against the board members.

The government plans to launch an ad hoc committee consisting of private sector experts. The committee will decide the future of the reactors. Construction will be halted for three months after the committee is set up. KHNP board members will meet again and decide what to do if the committee fails to reach a consensus.

However, the union and residents near the plant site have already vowed not to cooperate with the committee. The opposite party has also been unhappy with the experts' recommendations and the unclear managerial system.

Experts pointed out other countries would stop turning to Korea to build their reactors if the government gave up using nuclear power to generate electricity.

According to the World Nuclear Association, 27 countries plan to build 164 reactors costing 4 trillion won on average. This means the market size will exceed 600 trillion won.

Korea has been recognized for its technology and the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) has almost completed building reactors in the United Arab Emirates. The utility is also trying to win a majority stake in building a nuclear power plant in the U.K. But it is feared such efforts will lose momentum if Korea scraps the new Shin Kori reactors.

In the latest Gallup Korea poll, 59 percent of respondents supported using nuclear power to generate electricity, while 32 percent disagreed. The pros and cons of the Shin Kori construction were almost similar ─ 41 percent agreed with the suspension, while 37 percent disagreed. Twenty-two percent were undecided.

Park Jae-hyuk

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