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South Korea survey backs restarting construction of two nuclear reactors

A South Korean government-organised committee is recommending Seoul resume the stalled construction of two nuclear reactors after an opinion survey found nearly 60% of respondents were in favour of building the power plants.

The Public Opinion Committee on Shin Kori 5 and 6 said that 59.5% of the 417 citizen representatives supported resuming construction of the two power plants.

The committee conducted four rounds of surveys including phone interviews of 20,006 people, and public discussions over the past three months.

The survey results had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6%.

Stability of power supply was cited as a prime reason for the choice in survey responses, the committee said.

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"The citizen panel discussed nuclear power's [impact on] safety, the economy, the environment and the stable supply of electricity. More and more people supported resuming construction as our talks progressed," said Kim Ji-hyung, Chairman of the committee, at a press conference.

The two projects were halted in late June after the government said it would let South Koreans give their opinions on energy policy direction amid public concern over atomic safety.

The suspension was one of President Moon Jae-in’s key campaign pledges to allay public worry over nuclear power.

Presidential Spokeswoman Shin Jiyeon said there was a tug of war between those who believed the construction of the nuclear reactors should resume and those who want to shut it down.

“The government decided to go through public discussions and reach a social consensus, which the government will adopt as policy,” she said before the decision.

At present, South Korea's state-run nuclear operator Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corp (KHNP) runs 24 nuclear reactors to provide about 30% of the country's total power supply.

People who want the reactors built worry that halting their construction will increase energy expenses and lead to power shortages.

South Korea has the world’s sixth-largest nuclear energy programme.

“This means that South Korea will now have nine nuclear reactors in one cluster, which is globally unprecedented,” said Daul Jang, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia Seoul Office.

“But we welcome the way the decision was reached, through public debate rather than by industry and government insiders with vested interests, and hope to see this system used again in the future.”

Moon's government still plans to gradually phase out nuclear energy and transition to renewables and natural gas.

It has scrapped plans to build additional nuclear power plants and vowed not to extend licenses of existing ones.

Moon's push to phase out nuclear energy is a departure from previous governments that tried to boost the industry as a new export industry.

Public trust toward the nuclear industry has eroded, however, since Japan's Fukushima nuclear meltdowns and the discovery that domestic reactors were built with fake components.

A recent earthquake centred near South Korea's nuclear reactors also caused alarm.

South Korea is one of the few exporters of nuclear technology in the world.

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