The impartiality of public deliberation on whether to continue or terminate the construction of Shin-Kori nuclear reactors 5 and 6 has been called into question.
Some of the data provided to citizen jurors who will decide the fate of the reactors is suspected of having been distorted.
The citizen jurors are scheduled to hold a yes or no vote on the issue after deliberating for three days from Friday. Groups for and against the construction submitted their respective data to the public deliberation committee, which provided the materials to the jurors.
Those who support the construction, including the Korean Nuclear Society, found 15 distortions in the video data provided by opponents and demanded corrections Tuesday.
The opponents said the death toll from the tsunami-hit nuclear plant in Fukushima in 2011 was 1,368. During a ceremony to shut down Kori Nuclear Power Plant 1 in June, President Moon Jae-in had cited the same number of deaths, but the Japanese government expressed strong regret on the comment, saying he lacked a correct understanding. The number reportedly includes deaths of evacuees by natural causes, which had nothing to do with radiation from the accident.
Opponents of the construction also argued that 3 trillion won ($2.65 billion) of proceeds from nuclear reactor exports to United Arab Emirates in 2009 were paid to Bechtel, a reactor designing company. However, those who are pro-construction countered that the payment to Bechtel was exaggerated 100-fold.
Even overseas experts and scholars have pointed out distorted information about the Shin Kori project. They said if Korea replaced all its nuclear reactors with liquefied natural gas power plants, the LNG power plants would emit additional carbon dioxide equivalent to that emitted from 27 million cars.
It was unreasonable from the outset to try to reach a conclusion on this grave issue within such a short period. In Germany, similar public debate took nearly three decades, but Korea rushed the process to finish it within three months, leaving little time to filter out false claims.
With the decision drawing nearer, student councils of the college of engineering of Seoul National University announced in a statement that the hasty policy to close all nuclear power plants endangers both academia and industry.
The statement was signed by the student councils of all 11 engineering departments, including nuclear engineering. In July, 417 science and engineering professors from 60 universities across the country urged the government to reconsider its policy to phase out reactors.
Though they are students, their assertions are valid and reasonable.
Nuclear power is an interdisciplinary field. About 10 percent of workers engaged in the nuclear power sector are nuclear engineering majors, with the rest coming from mechanical, chemical, materials, computer and other engineering areas. As the students argued, the problem of removing nuclear power is not a matter solely concerning nuclear engineering.
Public deliberation for government policy decision has been seldom tried in Korea. That is why the system sparked controversy and worries when the government launched a committee to run a public deliberation.
For a reasonable judgment, citizen jurors must not only weigh safety matters, but should consider many other factors, such as power supply and demand, energy security and industrial competitiveness.
Questions regarding the impartiality of public deliberation on the Shin-Kori reactors were unavoidable from the start, as the Moon administration declared its plan to achieve a nuclear-free nation and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy then worked on the related road map, while publicizing the policy.
If unfairness and biases are found to have intervened in the process of decision-making on Shin-Kori 5 and 6, protests against the final decision will be inevitable and the division of public opinion will be amplified.
Who will be held responsible for the consequences of misjudgment if jurors cast their votes based on distorted data? When it happens, the Moon administration must not pass the buck to citizens.