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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(August 22, 2003) The Korean government's attempt to settle the nuclear waste dump site dispute faces strong opposition from local residents. In the WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor we have paid attention to the developments in 2003 (583.5492: "Nuclear waste dumpsite issues in South Korea" and 585.5504: "Struggle against waste storage sites"). Of four potential sites, announced in February, Wido (Buan County) in the Jeola Province, now seems to be the final candidate. Protest continued and increased during the last two months.

(591.5535) KFEM - The Korean government's 17 year search for a nuclear dump site has finally reached a conclusion and Buan residents are forced to carry the cross. After only three weeks of geological investigation, the government decided to construct the low-, medium- and high-level nuclear waste disposal facility (1) in the Wido islet, off the coast of Buan County, North Jeola Province. However, the government is now faced with the fierce opposition of a large number of local residents.

On 4 February, the government selected four potential sites but encountering fierce resident objection, decided to change the selection process. The choice was now up to local governments, bidding to host the nuclear dump site, starting on 1 July.

The Roh administration, which came to power with President Roh's image of youth and reformation, stressed the value of "peoples' participation", and entrusted authority to the leaders of autonomous local governments. However, it did not go well, as bribery and secret agreements pervaded behind the doors and the Governor of Buan changed his mind overnight, announcing, out of the blue, that he would bid for the site.

Following this was the government's investigation into the suitability of Buan for the radioactive waste treatment plant. It took ten days to investigate and surprisingly, the government ignored the obvious geological facts, such as the underwater fault lines, which potentially endanger the stability of the facility. The central government settled on Buan, the one and only candidate.

The people of the North Jeola Province have historically thought of themselves as excluded from central development plans and this nuclear dump site must have seemed to be a good chance to pay off their debts with the cash compensation the government was promising to provide.

The MOCIE (Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy) and KHNP (Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company) and several North Jeola university professors started to persuade Governor Kim of Buan to okay the plan until 1:00 a.m. on 11 July. Governor Kim has been openly opposed to hosting a nuclear dumpsite in his hometown, and rejected excavation for the suitability test twice in the past. On the same day, the Buan County Committee was going to hold a meeting for the bidding, but governor Kim held a quick press conference before the committee meeting, declaring that he had decided host the site.

After the press conference, the committee rejeced the hosting of the nuclear dumpsite 7 to 5. The governor's arbitrary decision to host the site instantly raised the rage of Buan residents and they started to stage demonstrations from then on, the arduous struggle against the danger, and undemocratic conduct of the government imposed on them took off. About 6,000 police from all over the country were sent to repress unarmed protesters. 150 residents so far were injured during the protests in Buan.

Nevertheless, on 24 July, the government confirmed that Wido, Buan County will be the site.

Wido is a small island with a population of 1,400, adjacent to Young Gwang nuclear power plant to the south, and Saemangeum reclamation to the North. Wido's fishing grounds are destroyed because of these and the residents are heavily in debt. Using this situation as bait, KHNP falsely diffused talks of US$ 250,000 to 423,000 compensation, which would enable residents pay off their debts. This is how the government got consent from 90% of Wido residents. After Wido residents realized that they were not going to receive a cash compensation, they formed an opposition committee.

Governor Kim's face is on the wanted posters in Buan, primary and secondary students are refusing to go to school, and local shopkeepers are closing down their shops to protest. Fishermen blocked the seaway to Wido with their 250 fishing boats, and 10,000 people seized the highway. 1,500 motor vehicles paralyzed traffic in JeonJu, the local capital of the North Jeola Province, in a protest against the provincial governor.

The locals, including various groups of people from the left- wingers to the right, and the young and old, are voluntarily gathering together to oppose to the government's decision. The candlelight protest has become a daily ritual to more than 10,000 residents of Buan (a county with 70,000 population). They have been going on for 20 nights and the vigils do not seem to have weakened a bit. Even the residents seemed to be surprised at their own power and with a positive and encouraged attitude, the resident's anti-nuclear movement is actively growing.

The government and nuclear industry are falsely claiming that plutonium is safe enough to eat, that spent fuel is a renewable resource -- not a high-level nuclear waste, that the rest of the world is successfully operating nuclear waste disposal facilities, that those developed nations are continuing to construct nuclear power plants, without more nuclear power plants, electricity will run out by 2008, and that the storage for low- and medium-level radioactive waste will be desperately in need in 2008.

Buan residents are developing their local based protest against this particular nuclear waste disposal facility to the national movement for the government's abandonment of the nuclear centered energy policy.

(1) Low and medium level waste storage facility which will hold 800,000 barrels in total (at the initial stage it will hold 100,000 barrels) to be completed in 2008, and a high level nuclear waste storage facility which will hold 20,000 tons in total (at the initial stage it will hold 2,000 tons) to be completed in 2016.

Source and contact: Yangi Wonyoung at Korean Federation for Environmental Movement, 251 Nuha-Dong, Chongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 2 735 7000
Fax: +82 2 730 1240