A government committee to gather public opinions and make a recommendation on whether to resume the construction of nuclear reactors Shin-Kori 5 and 6 issued sourcebooks of pros and cons to citizen jurors on Thursday.
Under its original plan, it should have distributed them on Sept. 16, but it fell more than 10 days behind due to conflicts between the two sides.
Because public opinion was divided almost equally on the construction even before the commission was launched on July 24, strife was anticipated to some extent.
On Monday, the committee terminated a contract with a professor who was supposed to verify the draft sourcebook because the expert was found to have supported nuclear reactors in the past. The move sparked controversy over the neutrality and impartiality of information to be provided to the jurors, with both sides protesting.
A debate slated for Monday was indefinitely postponed in the aftermath of the protest.
Earlier, reactor supporters had raised questions about the content of the draft sourcebook, arguing that it favored reactor opponents. Not long after the issue was resolved, they protested a government demand that reactor experts from certain groups stay out of the debate because they could hurt impartiality. Reactor advocates argued if they are excluded, few can make a logical argument on their side.
At last, after many twists and turns, sourcebooks needed for deliberation among citizen jurors were finalized and distributed. It’s fortunate that they were not postponed further. Among other things, a scheduled debate in a camp with the sourcebooks for three days in a row from Oct. 13 has been made possible. Strife over its ostensible bias was settled at least for the time being. Still, both sides hold fast to their opinions, casting a dark cloud over debates.
Shin-Kori advocates plan to hold rallies to protest public deliberation itself and question the government policy to wean the nation from nuclear power generation. There is doubt that the commission was formed eventually to serve President Moon’s election pledge to go free of nuclear power. The playing field may be uneven from the outset.
The commission is to complete its activities on Oct. 21, and a day earlier, it will submit its recommendation to the government. It will survey citizen jurors in the camp twice for the last time.
It is hardly understandable that a crucial issue like whether to terminate the construction of nuclear power plants can be resolved through several opinion polls and three days of camp discussions.
Considering conflicts between supporters and opponents, it is questionable whether the commission will be able to make its recommendation on Oct. 20 as scheduled.
More worrisome is, it is unclear if either side whose argument will not be recommended will accept the recommendation even if the commission will meet the deadline.
The commission now has less than a fortnight to work, excluding Chuseok holiday. It is questionable if citizen jurors can have a meaningful discussion and reach a rational and careful conclusion in such a short period.
Public deliberation is likely to be ineffective if it is pressed for time. The nation has experienced this regarding how to dispose of spent fuel rods. The then public deliberation committee failed to address core issues due to internal discord and resignations of some members after 20 months of operation from October 2013 to June 2015.
The committee for Shin-Kori 5 and 6 is feared to be following in the footsteps of the spent fuel rod panel.
When it comes to an important, controversial and farsighted policy issue, a long period of discussion is desirable. So why is the Moon administration rushing into a decision?
Worries will remain even after the recommendation is submitted. Whichever the commission chooses, backlash and strife will be unavoidable.
The government needs to weigh whether to proceed with public deliberation on the tight schedule.