Last week’s announcement by the Japanese government that the country wants to abandon its dependency on nuclear power and become nuclear-free sends a strong message to the government of South Korea.
However, ignoring the momentous news from Japan, South Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge and Economy (MKE) has in the last few days named the potential construction sites for new nuclear reactors. If the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and specific geological tests are approved, the new reactors will be built.
This confirms that the government is still hell-bent on chasing their nuclear expansion plans rather than listening to the calls from their citizens to go nuclear free.
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan has said it wants to phase out nuclear power entirely. On the other hand, South Korea is taking the completely opposite road and aiming for 59% of its electricity being produced by nuclear.
According to the Japanese blueprint, the government will cancel new nuclear plans, old reactors over 40 years old will be decommissioned, and renewable energy production rates will be tripled.
Although there is still a lot to solve regarding the highly dangerous problems of nuclear waste from its reactors, the fact that the government is starting to listen to the concerns of the citizens despite the pro-nuclear stakeholders is hugely significant.
Japan isn’t unique in this. As we’ve seen in the past year, countries previously labelled as leaders in nuclear power such as Germany and Belgium have also chosen to phase out their reactors.
Even one of the world’s biggest nuclear players France is planning to downsize its nuclear power share from 75% to 50% by 2025.
South Korea, a so-called rising nuclear star after clinching a $20 billion deal in 2009 to build four nuclear plants in the United Arab Emirates now finds itself increasingly isolated. A nuclear-free future is not a choice, it’s inevitable.
The government is gambling with the future of its citizens not to mention the millions in public cash being invested on nuclear research and development, and PR (otherwise known as spin, propaganda and greenwash). The public are also the ones who will pay the financial costs in the event of a nuclear accident as well as having to deal with the impact on their lives.
It’s clear from all this that the government is simply not willing to listen to the people of South Korea. The only people they are listening to are the power companies with their eyes on profits and the construction companies fighting for building contracts. Instead of representing their voters, the government is fighting for vested interests.
Just as the Japanese government is beginning to learn the lessons from Fukushima, so too should South Korea. It should abandon both plans for new nuclear reactors and the illusion that nuclear power is a safe, clean and cheap power source.
Greenpeace has fought along side the people for a nuclear-free Japan. We will continue that fight along side the people of South Korea until the day the government realises a better, cleaner, safer and renewable and sustainable future is waiting.