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South Korea's anti-nuclear power movement grows

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 22, 1990) Despite the fact that the nuclear power industry is in decline worldwide, South Korea announced plans in May 1989 to go ahead with the construction of two strongly contested new reactors (Yeong-gwang 3 and 4) and to build 56 more by the year 2031. South Korea already has nine operating reactors.

(334.3336) WISE Amsterdam - The South Korean nuclear power industry, which is dependent on the US, France, and Canada, is riddled with scandal and Incidents of contamination. For instance, when the Korean Electric Power Company (KEPCO) entered into a contract to build the two Yeong-gwang reactors and supply them with nuclear fuel, it chose the US company Combustion Engineering (CE) because CE quoted a lower construction price. Later it became clear that the choice was influenced by large scale bribery involving both the Korean and US administrations. Another bidder, Westinghouse Co., had put in a much lower bid (US $180 million as against CE's $269 million).

Until now, Korean nuclear reactors have been built according to the safety regulations of the foreign nations that built them. This is not true of the new Yeong-gwang reactors. CE failed to obtain the safety guarantee which nuclear facilities are supposed to be issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the models for the planned reactors do not follow the 'Proven Design Concept' and the model's reactor pressure-vessel and steam generators have been found to be defective. Nevertheless, the government began construction, without notice, in December 1989. That decision, along with the suspicions of bribery, have lead to further suspicions that the forced construction of the reactors benefits only a few in power while endangering the lives of many.

In April 1989, a month prior to the government's announcement to build Yeong-gwang 3 and 4, sixteen South Korean anti-nuclear power and environmental organizations came together to form Korea's first national anti-nuclear power coalition. The coalition, named the "National Headquarters for the Nuclear Power Eradication Movement", was set up to fight the construction of the two Yeong-gwang reactors. In September 1989 it began a "One Million Signature Campaign" and had already collected 160,000 signatures as of February 1990.

The event which led to the coalition's formation was one of a series of protests following the discovery of illegal dumping of radioactive wastes in Changan Village, Yangsan County, Gyongnam, near the Kori nuclear power plant in December of 1988. People living near the plant began the strong protest actions after discovery of the dump was made public, and in March of 1989 held a protest In which they used over 30 tractors to carry nuclear wastes to the Kori facility. They also held a die-In on a national highway, obstructing motor traffic for up to two and a half hours. Government authorities tried to end the Incident by charging the Korean Electric Power Company (KEPCO), the Kori plant operators, a small fine for illegal disposal. However, immediately following this, on 8 April 1989, illegally dumped drums of radioactive wastes were again found In Changan Village When village residents occupied KEPCO's main office in Seoul four days later in protest, the police responded aggressively, arresting 28 people and severely injuring an old woman with a tear gas grenade.

Although South Korea's anti-nuclear power movement sees that Its biggest task right now is to stop construction of the Yeong-gwang reactors, it has other concerns as well. One matter that came under consideration last year was a rumor that a radioactive waste disposal facility is being planned for Yondok on South Korea's east coast. Opposition to this plan has quickly built up.

According to Ahn Jung-Sun of the Korea Anti-Pollution Movement Association, the movement is being fueled by recent reports of abnormal babies being born to families where the father had worked at a nuclear power plant. Last year a baby was born without a brain (see WISE News Communique 317.2174), and only this March, a baby was born with a huge head without bones. Ahn Jung-Sun spoke of these tragedies at a three-day anti-nuclear festival held in Tokyo on April 27 through 29. She said that in Korea, the movement against nuclear power plants Is felt to be a movement against nuclear arms as well "This is because we believe they are two sides of the same hand. For the peace of our peninsula, we want neither nuclear arms nor nuclear power plants." She also expressed surprise after participating in a demonstration march to the Japanese Diet, saying, "I was astonished to find mothers with small children taking part. In Korea, I always take my 5-year-old daughter to peaceful demonstrations, but we are always besieged by the fearsome riot police, and I never see any other mothers with children. The social situation is such that it is very difficult for mothers to being their children on demonstrations."

Even while she was participating in the Japanese festival, back home In Korea during Earth Day events riot police were preventing 5,000 demonstrators from marching more than one kilometer outside the park from which they intended to march in protest against all nuclear power plants.

Sources: "Nuke Info Tokyo", May/June 1989, No.11, Sep/Oct 1989, No.13, May/June 1990, No.17.

Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, 3F Watanabe Bldg., Higashiueno 2-23-22, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110, Japan, tel: 03-832-1976, fax: 03-832-4930.