2020-08-10 15:00
2020-08-10 15:54
Statement of the CBCK Committee for Ecology & Environment

Statement of the CBCK Committee for Ecology & Environment

We Should Choose Life (cf. Dt 30,19)

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK), after witnessing the aftermath of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan in March, 2011, expressed serious concerns about nuclear power plants and their dangerous impact on future generations. Consequently, the CBCK urged a transition to a denuclearized society by publishing “Nuclear Technology and the Teachings of the Church - Reflection of the Catholic Church in Korea on Nuclear Power Development” in November, 2013.

Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, various media outlets in this country have investigated the effects of the aforementioned accident and have concluded that they are far-reaching and will be long-lasting. In fact, possible solutions for the radioactive contamination resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster are still to be discovered. The Fukushima nulcear accident has revealed to people all over the world the problems associated with nuclear power: accidents can happen at any time as a result of natural or man-made causes and resultant radiation problems are inevitable. The Japanese government says, on the one hand, that the Fukushima nuclear power plant is under control; but on the other hand, that there is no choice other than to discharge the contaminated water from the nuclear power plant. Such a contradictory position demonstrates the problems concerning the nuclear power plant.   

In this context, the Korean government, despite its policy of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, reveals a number of worrisome issues. The Shin Gori Nuclear Power Plant Unit-4 began commercial operation on September 2, 2019, and the Shin Hanul (Shin Uljin) Nuclear Power Plant Unit-1 and Unit-2 are ready for operation. In addition, the construction of the Shin Gori Nuclear Power Plant Unit-5 and Unit-6, which were finalized through public debate and government decision, will increase operational facilities for nuclear power plants in the country. 

On July 3, 2019, nearly 200 holes were found in the concrete containment buildings of two nuclear reactors, Unit-3 and Unit-4 at Hanbit (Yeonggwang) Nuclear Power Plant, constructed in the 1980s. The largest hole is said to be 157cm in diameter (and 167cm deep). The claims of the government and the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., LTD that a 1 meter reinforced concrete containment wall will be sufficient for safety are unconvincing. In the case of Hanbit (Yeonggwang) Unit-1, it was found that the operation of the nuclear power plant’s main room by an unlicensed operator resulted in a dangerous increase in nuclear power output. 

The press have repeatedly revealed how the Nuclear Research Institute, located in Daejeon, a large city with a population of more than 1.5 million, have carried out research without insuring proper management of high-level nuclear waste. Such research is still in progress.  

Citizens who take seriously the issue of nuclear power plants are most concerned about high-level nuclear waste. The government and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. launched the ‘Spent Nuclear Fuel Management Policy Review Committee’ aimed at constructing an interim storage facility. They claim that temporary storage for high-level nuclear waste is saturated, and if no additional facility is provided, the nuclear power plant will have to be halted. However, it is very doubtful that the Review Committee can play its proper role if it excludes local people and environmental groups, both important stakeholder, from the process. There is no country in the world that operates a high-level nuclear waste repository durable for more than 100,000 years and it is not advisable to build an interim storage facility designed for only 50 years. It is a safe and reasonable course of action to close nuclear power plants after their spent nuclear fuel has reached saturation point.  

God led the Israelites from Egypt to a new world, asking them to choose a life that they and their descendents may live (cf. Dt 30,19). Our society must be transformed from a society that devalues life in pursuit of economic values, into a society that truly respects life. Instead of nuclear and coal-fired power, which ultimately produces suffering for the vulnerable, energy production must be shifted to renewable and eco-friendly sources. 

Therefore, we ask the government and our society that: 

- The independence of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission should be ensured and its authority strengthened in safety matters relating to nuclear power plants.

- Old nuclear power plants should be closed as construction of new nuclear power plants is completed.

- The ratification of the Yeongdeok (Daejin) nuclear power plant project should be cancelled.

- Legislation should be enacted to end the construction of new nuclear power plants and to stop the extension of operational time for old nuclear power plants.

- At the Atomic Energy Research Institute in Daejeon, a densely populated area, the R&D project under the name of promoting nuclear energy should be stopped. However, research and development for safety and decommissioning of nuclear power plants should be promoted.

- The results of regular inspections of all domestic nuclear power plants should be disclosed to the media each time on completion.

October 14, 2019

 + Peter Kang U-il

Bishop of Cheju

President of the CBCK Committee for Ecology & Environment