South Korea's government on Monday appointed nine members of a panel tasked with overseeing the sensitive process of collecting public opinions to determine the fate of two nuclear reactors, as it began its three-month operation.
The panel will select a group of "citizen jurors" who will have the final say over whether to cancel the reactor construction in Ulsan, 414 kilometers southeast of Seoul, and ensure fairness in the opinion gathering process, officials said. The final decision is set to be made by Oct. 21.
The Office for Government Policy Coordination under the prime minister's office announced Kim Ji-hyung, who served as a Supreme Court justice from 2005-2011, as the chairman of the panel.
The office also picked two panel members each for the four categories: humanities and society; science and technology; survey and statistics; and conflict management.
For the humanities-society category, the office selected Kim Jung-in, a professor in the law-public administration department of the University of Suwon, and Ryu Bang-ran, the vice president of the Korean Educational Development Institute.
For the science and technology part, Yu Tae-kyung, a chemical engineering professor at Kyung Hee University, and Lee Sung-jay, a physics professor at the Korea Institute for Advanced Study, were appointed. (Yonhap News)
The survey and statistics category is filled by Kim Young-won, a statistics professor at Sookmyung Women's University, and Lee Yun-suk, an urban sociology professor at the University of Seoul.
Kim Won-dong, a sociology professor at Kangwon National University, and Lee Hee-jin, the secretary-general of the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Center, were appointed for the conflict management category.
The appointments came amid concerns that the cancellation of the construction project, which is nearly 30 percent complete, would incur some 2.6 trillion won (US$2.3 billion) in losses, and trigger many job losses and damage suits.
The suspension of the construction last month was in line with President Moon Jae-in's pursuit of an energy policy shift away from nuclear power, which experts and observers warn could lead to a hefty rise in electricity prices and a potential energy shortage.
After the panel's first meeting, Kim, its chairman, pledged to secure "procedural justice" and keep impartiality during its activities.
"The panel is not an entity to come up with an answer and execute it ... It is to design the social debate process and manage it," he told reporters. "Thus, we will strive to secure procedural justice."
Kim also vowed to be "careful in my deeds and words" not to fuel any suspicion that could undermine the panel's fairness.
In a separate press conference earlier in the day, Hong Nam-ki, the policy coordination minister, vowed to ensure that the panel will carry out its mission in a "fair, politically neutral, objective and transparent" way.
"In the process (of gathering public opinions), the government will thoroughly maintain fairness and political neutrality," Hong told reporters.
"After the final results come out, we will report them to the Cabinet meeting and accept them as they are," he added.
Last week, the president himself pledged to accept whatever decision the citizen jurors would make and make it a model case of social conflict resolution.
Following the announcement of the appointments, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party criticized its make-up, arguing there is no nuclear reactor expert on the list. It also raised questions over what standards were used in the selection of the members.
The party also demanded full-fledged discussions on the reactor issue at the legislature before any decision is reached. (Yonhap News)