South Korea: struggle against waste storage sites

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(April 11, 2003) On 4 February the South Korean government announced four candidate sites for a nuclear waste storage facility (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 583.5492: "Nuclear waste dumpsite issue in South Korea"). Since the announcement, there have been various actions to protest the government's plan.

(585.5504) KFEM - Residents in the 4 sites demonstrated in their hometown. 4,000 ~ 13,000 people gathered in the demonstrations respectively. In Ulchin, 5,000 residents fought with police in the course of trying to enter a nuclear power plant near the town, to show their fury against the nuclear facility. In Youngduk, residents occupied a major highway in that area for about 3 hours. On 27 March, 7,000 residents from the 4 sites gathered together in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to show their opinion that no place in the world is suitable for nuclear waste storage facilities. And since 28 March, a monk of Won-Buddhism, a Korean national religion, has gone on a hunger strike (It's the 14th day of hunger as of April 10).

Similarities with the protests in the past
The protests show similarities with the fights in the past. Since 1989, when the government's plan for a nuclear waste storage facility was revealed for the first time, the major power of struggles has come from residents in the sites planned for a facility. In 1990, for example, residents in Anmyeon island fought so fiercely that the area almost fell into a state of anarchy when they blocked the only bridge to land, occupied the county office and police office, and announced a self-ruling republic.

Differences with the fights in the past
The current fights, however, show some differences from the fights in the past:

  • Differently from the past, the local governments are no longer considered as the major target of these fights. In some ways, the local governments share the understanding that a misleading policy of the central government will not benefit the local. It originates from the change of local government in South Korea. Since 1995, residents in local areas have elected their own local government heads and local assembly men.
  • With the reason above, it is obvious that the residents demonstrate in Seoul, where the central government and assembly locate. In the rally on 27 March, for example, the slogan was "Nuclear power plant in front of the National Assembly, Nuclear waste dumpsite in the backyard of the Presidential Mansion". Important thing is, the residents are now saying that the locals should not be sacrificed for the capital that uses the most energy and has political power.
  • In the past, there were not much residents who could think that nuclear itself is the problem, rather than 'not in my hometown.' But now, residents in the 4 sites understand well that nuclear itself is the problem. And so the residents from all the 4 sites are fighting together to get rid of all the nuclear facilities in South Korea, and in the world.

Response of the government and nuclear industry
The government and nuclear industry have not responded to the recent protests. Rather, the nuclear industry is trying to mislead the national opinion blaming the residents' struggles as local egoism. The Korean Hydro and Nuclear Power Company (KHNPC), which is in charge of selecting and constructing the storage facility, has not answered our request to open the research report that was the basis of the selection of the 4 sites. Moreover, KHNPC has not admitted that they bought some people to fabricate the resident's opinion (to invite the facility).

We regard that the nuclear industry itself is the major cause of the social conflicts. In fact, the nuclear industry is handling the Korean policy of electric power. So we will make this opportunity to reform the electric policy including the policy of nuclear waste storage facility and nuclear power plants.

Source and contact: Wonyoung Yang-Yi, Korean Federation for Environmental Movement, 251 Nuhadong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
Tel: +82 2 735 7000
Fax: +82 2 730 1240