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Korean protests force cancellation of waste plan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 7, 1990) Thousands of villagers rioted in protest of plans by the South Korean government to build a low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste (LLW/MLW) repository on Anmyon Island, 90 miles southwest of Seoul.

(343.3427) WISE Amsterdam - The disturbances ended only after the government announced it would cancel the planned repository. It was the country's most violent anti-nuclear protest to date.

The riots also resulted in President Roh Tac-Woo's decision to fire a cabinet minister, Chung Kun-Mo, who has headed the Ministry of Science & Technology since early this year, and a provincial police chief. In South Korea, public officials traditionally are fired and held responsible for social unrest over government policies in their jurisdiction.

On Thursday, 8 November, after two days of relatively peaceful protests, some 10,000 women, men and school children attacked government facilities and police vehicles with firebombs, rocks and clubs. According to press reports, four government officials, six police officers and about a dozen residents were injured, some seriously. Government offices were occupied, a police station was burned to the ground and two vehicles were destroyed. Villagers also stripped five government officials to their underpants and forced them to stand in the streets before freeing them two hours later.

About 2,500 riot police, backed by armored vans firing tear gas, recaptured government offices but were forced to retreat as villagers throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails attacked. Police launched a pre-dawn attack the following day. When hundreds of people again tried to rally in the afternoon, police attacked with tear gas. By late in the day, about 3,000 riot police had fanned out to restore order among the island residents. (News reports give conflicting numbers of people living on the island, 23,000 in some cases and 50,000 in others.) Hundreds of firebombs, anti-government posters, leaflets and containers of paint thinner were confiscated, according to police. About half the island shops and businesses were closed. Seventy-three people were arrested. News reports said most students stayed away from classes Friday and dozens of residents staged a sit-in at town offices demanding the release of those jailed.

According to one Associated Press report, law enforcement authorities say they are investigating if "radical dissidents such as student activists played a role in touching off the violent protests." And Prime Minister Kang Young-hoon has ordered "tough punishment for law breakers." (Unfortunately, he was not referring to the Ministry of Science & Technology...)

This is the second time that the government has been forced to cancel plans to construct a nuclear waste dump because of public protests. Last year, the government scrapped a similar project in the Ulchin-Youngil area on the east coast after thousands of villagers protested. Past protests involved peaceful rallies or minor clashes.

The protests have dealt a serious blow to the government's plan to build South Korea's first nuclear waste repository by 1995, when temporary storage facilities at each of South Korea's nine operating plants are expected to be full. Officials said about 2,100 tons of LLW and MLW are piling up each year. And more is expected. South Korea has plans to build more reactors. The government says it will run out of storage facilities by 1994.


  • Nucleonics Week (US), 15 Nov. 1990
  • Associated Press (South Korea), 9 Nov. 1990
  • UPI (South Korea), 9 Nov. 1990.

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