South Koreans stop plan for nuclear waste dump on Gulup Island, 1994-95

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Timing
Time Period:  
22 December
1994
to
30 November
1995
Location and Goals
Country: 
South Korea
Location City/State/Province: 
Gulup Island
Location Description: 
1.7 Sq. mile island off the West Coast of South Korea
Goals: 
To stop the building of a nuclear waste dumping site on Gulup Island.
 

In the 1980’s and 90’s South Korea’s nuclear industry was growing, and the Korean environmental and anti-nuclear movement grew along with it. During the 1980’s, over fifty percent of the country’s electricity came from nuclear power, so that by the end of the decade, storage of the radioactive waste posed a formidable challenge as on-site storage facilities began to reach capacity. As the problem increased for the industry, the anti-nuclear sentiment gained momentum: in 1989 twenty-one environmental and social movement organizations came together to form the National Headquarters for Nuclear Power Eradication.

A series of attempted nuclear waste storage facility projects never came to fruition due to popular resistance. The government made their first proposal for waste storage sites in 1986, and by 1994 four different proposals involving twelve different location options had met too much resistance to proceed.

By the end of 1994 the government thought it finally had a fail-proof proposal: Gulup Island, a mere 1.7 square miles and located off South Korea’s western coast. Only ten families lived there, so any resistance shown by the residents could hardly constitute a real obstacle. Although the government claimed in its announcement on December 22, 1994, that the residents of Gulup Island agreed to relocate for a monetary compensation, environmental groups questioned whether any real agreement existed. The government also decided to use Gulup as a waste storage dump without holding any public hearings or getting input from the larger public on the issue beforehand.

As soon as the public found out about the Gulup Island plans, environmental groups took up the cause and rallied support for the islanders. The Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM), Korea’s largest environmental organization, took the lead in a campaign to stop the Gulup Island project. KFEM had over 13,000 members at that time and worked with numerous smaller grassroots environmental and social movement groups to advocate for the residents of Gulup, who soon made it clear that they did not want a nuclear waste dump site located on their island.

Clearly, too, the proposed waste site would affect communities anywhere close to Gulup, like on Dukjok Island nearby and the large city of Incheon on the mainland. Elders on the island of Dukjok feared for the impact that a large nuclear facility would have on their traditional way of life. Island fisherman expressed concern for their business as sales began to drop off because customers questioned possible radioactive contamination of fish. Also, residents in the resort business worried that the nuclear waste dump would deter tourists from visiting the beautiful islands as they usually did each summer. KFEM and broader public involvement amplified these islanders’ voices against the Gulup island waste dumpsite proposal.

Representatives from environmental groups spoke at public hearings that the government eventually held, but the meetings represented more of a formality than anything. The opponents understood that if the government really cared about their opinions they would have held hearings prior to announcing the choice of Gulup Island.

The opposition took matters into its own hands and commissioned a geological survey of the island. The survey found a capable fault under the site, meaning that the possibility existed for sudden slipping of rock layers, which produce an earthquake. They used this as a driving point for the campaign against locating a nuclear facility on Gulup and called for a local referendum on the issue. In the spring of 1995, over 300 residents of Dukjok Island staged a protest outside of the Ministry of Science and Technology building in Seoul. A large force of riot police met them but did not arrest anyone. Police did arrest many protesters in other protests over the issue, however, in Incheon and Seoul, and organizers reported several injuries from police violence. The residents of Gulup Island also took an active stand and refused to move from their homes, stating that no monetary reward could ever persuade them to leave.

All of these efforts put enough pressure on the government that they finally gave in to having a geological survey done of the site. The South Korean government invited experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency to perform its own geological survey. In October 1995, the government had to admit to the presence of a capable fault underneath the island of Gulup and abandon yet again its proposal for building a nuclear waste storage site. On November 30, 1995 South Korea announced the official conclusion of pursuing Gulup Island as a dumping site.

Research Notes
Influences: 

This campaign was influenced by a very strong anti-nuclear movement in South Korea during this period.

Sources: 
“Cancellation of plan for a nuclear waste dump on Gulup Island.” Korean Federation for Environmental Movement. Web. Mar. 23, 2012. <http://english.kfem.or.kr/successful/successful1.htm>

Kwon, Taehyun. “A Study on Policy Change of Locating Radioactive Waste Depository Facilities in South Korea using a Multiple Streams Perspective.” MPP Essay Submitted to Oregon State University. Presented August 3, 2010. Accessed via Web. Mar. 23, 2012. <https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:yT6OpbFH5zAJ:ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/18503/kwon.pdf%3Fsequence%3D1+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShDhqPzgpqoKeEdCxtcytwG_YOk90qJShaelwZPyQ2E8vu9OIyriy3j9hX5BQwGpIBba0vJKahI3UpkevzlGU4-tCXTFCGiM-Ree1r9gK_VOMClK_fBrUVqM61Fv3AT_N7Ht7Pw&sig=AHIEtbTTFL53FShUZhsBRpHFN9Nk34einQ>

"S. Korea's green crusader steps up fight; Choi Yul is on a mission to reduce CO2 emissions by 5 per cent every year for the next 10 years." The Straits Times (Singapore). April 2, 2007 Monday. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Mar. 23, 2012.

Lee, Su-Hoon. “Environmental Movements in South Korea.” Asia’s Environmental Movements: Comparative Perspectives. Ed. Lee, Wok-Shiu F. and Alvin Y. So. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe Inc, 1999. 94-108. Web. Mar. 23. 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?id=CCdZHRTkFpAC&lpg=PA95&ots=qVTMR8kMUJ&dq=Korea%20Anti-Pollution%20Movement%20Association&pg=PA108#v=onepage&q=Korea%20Anti-Pollution%20Movement%20Association&f=false>

Helvarg, David. "Korean activists defend an island. " Earth Island Journal . Jan. 1,1995. Research Library, ProQuest. Web. Mar. 23, 2012. <http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=9261450&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=42764&RQT=309&VName=PQD>

“Kurop: Condemnation of an island.” WISE News Communique. May 19, 1995. Web. Mar. 23, 2012. <http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/index.html?http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/432/4263.html>

Leem, Sung-Jin. “Unchanging vision of nuclear energy; Nuclear power policy of the South Korean government and citizens’ challenge.” Energy & Environment. Vol. 17, Issue 3. 2006.

“Glossary of Seismological Terms.” Natural Resources Canada. Aug. 15, 2011. Web. Apr. 4, 2012. <http://www.earthquakescanada.nrcan.gc.ca/info-gen/glossa-eng.php>

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Leah Grady Sayvetz 04/04/2012