President Moon Jae-in vowed to enhance the safety of nuclear reactors Sunday, accepting the recent recommendation by a public debate commission to resume the construction of two new nuclear reactors that he earlier promised to scrap.
"The government will quickly resume the construction of the Shin Kori-5 and Shin Kori-6 nuclear reactors in accordance with the outcome of the debate," the president said in a statement released by the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
The remarks came two days after the state commission, following a three-month deliberation process, recommended the two unfinished nuclear reactors be completed and put in operation.
The public debate began in July after the president agreed to first find out what the general public wished to do with the two new nuclear reactors whose construction already began in 2016.
Moon urged his supporters, as well as those who are in favor of building a nuclear energy-free nation, to accept the outcome of the public review that involved 471 citizens and experts representing both sides.
"I believe democracy becomes perfect when people have the right to discuss and when they accept the outcome of such discussions. I also ask those who supported my election pledge to halt the construction to respect and accept the public debate commission's recommendation," Moon said.
The president said the government will instead work to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants, noting the Shin Kori reactors in the county of Uljin will put the total number of reactors in the southeastern part of the country to 15, with millions of people to be within a 30-kilometer radius of these facilities.
He also vowed to continue building a nuclear energy-free nation, a process he earlier said will take decades.
"The government will stop building new nuclear reactors, and once the stability in power supply can be confirmed, it will suspend the operation of the Wolseong-1 reactor, which currently is in operation after its designed lifespan was extended," the president said.
So far, some 1.6 trillion won (US$1.4 billion) had been spent on the 8.6 trillion-won project that began last year, with about 30 percent of the construction complete as of June.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said it will work closely with related agencies, such as the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corp. (KHNP), the state-run nuclear operator, and its contractors to discuss the necessary steps and compensation measures.
The KHNP said last week that it will consult with local contractors to resume work on building two new reactors as early as next month and compensate the damages incurred by a three-month halt in work.
The commission's decision came as a relief to local builders and residents, who have strongly opposed any moves to stop construction and threatened to take legal action to obtain financial compensation.
The country's nuclear energy industry also welcomed President Moon's statement, urging his administration to reconsider its nuclear-free policy.
While the construction of Shin Kori-5 and Shin Kori-6 reactors was scheduled to be completed by 2021 and 2022, respectively, officials say the schedule could be delayed at least four to five months due to the unexpected construction suspension. Further delays could also take place as past projects have seen cost overruns and other holdups caused by safety issues.
The presidential office said follow-up measures for the resumption of the construction, including the safety issues, will be decided during a Cabinet meeting scheduled for this week.
Meanwhile, it said the process of gathering opinion from the public through debate will be selectively applied to issues directly involving the government. It said such processes need to be limited to certain cases and that not all social problems can be resolved in this manner.