5. Communication Breakdown

Chapter 4: India, Malaysia, Korea
Part 3: South Korea’s Poisonous Emissions

After the twelve thousand workers involved in the construction of the Yeonggwang plant had departed, the villagers were left with dozens of empty houses and a mountain of debt. Catches of koolbi, a fish for which the region is well known, were drastically reduced compared with previous years. The villagers continue to demand compensation from the corporation for what they see as the disintegration of the local economy since the plant began operating.

A deeply rooted mistrust of the government seems to be a significant factor in the people's suspicions about nuclear power in South Korea. When we mentioned to the resettlement committee that in the cases of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no significant genetic differences had been found between those who were exposed to radiation and those who were not, the committee was ready with the reply: "The Japanese government could be lying about the figures for all you know."

We spoke to Choi Hong-Sik, head of the radiation department of the Science Ministry, who is fighting an uphill battle to restore the people's faith in atomic energy.

"A simple lack of knowledge lies behind all this fuss about nuclear power, combined with past history and the changes now taking place in society," he said, choosing his words carefully. He was alluding to the recent accidents, and allegations of gross negligence and cover-ups connected with the construction of nuclear power facilities on the part of the previous administration, which have rocked the national assembly ever since South Korea established a democratic government in 1988.

"We know that nuclear power is safe, but we are prepared to respond to the questions of the people in good faith," added Choi.

Following the incident at Yeonggwang, the ministry announced in August 1989 that it would conduct a medical survey of all the residents within a two-mile radius of the plant, adding that it would include a doctor to be chosen by the people of Seongsan. This was not acceptable to the villagers, who had demanded a survey team of which half the members would be chosen by them, not just one. It will be a long time before the uproar at Yeonggwang dies down and the people and their government are able to communicate on more amicable terms.