Three months have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster that sent a shockwave through the rest of the world. After the radiation leak that resulted from the strong earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the northeast Japan, people are now using words like radioactivity, iodine, and cesium in daily conversations. Not surprisingly, atomic energy is perceived increasingly more in terms of potential 'nuclear' hazards than a pragmatic and clean energy source. The public now looks at this energy source far cheaper than fire and solar power in providing the electricity essential in our daily lives with fear and distrust. When there should be a clear distinction between atomic power and nuclear threat, I cannot help but notice how many people have extreme views on this matter.
Horrifying expressions like 'monster catfish,' 'giant rat,' and 'ear-less rabbit' are aggravating the public's dread. Instead of actual and accurate report on the accident, many people are spreading exaggerated stories, consequently snowballing the terror. Now these atomic power technologies have become something of a Frankenstein.
Having little natural resources, Korea introduced atomic power in order to supply energy that was essential for economic development. And the country has improved the technologies for more than three decades since the commercial operation of the nuclear power plant Unit 1 in Gori, which began in 1979. Starting from scratch, Korea now owns world-class atomic power operation and construction technologies, which finally came to fruition as the country won - over many other strong competitors - the KRW 47 trillion contract for power plant construction in UAE. This news met with the public applause. It was especially significant since the victory came after many experts who used to learn technologies from more advanced countries worked together with passion and determination to win the contract. However, Korean atomic power technologies, which used to mean Korea's pride only one year ago, are going through a difficult period after the catastrophe in Fukushima. The dreadful perception that atomic power is dangerous and hazardous is acting as a sentimental obstacle.
We cannot, however, live in obscure fear. While we cannot take enough caution for safety of the nuclear power plants, it is equally true that blind rejection does not benefit anyone. Surely enough, the government should focus more on taking all possible measures against potential danger than emphasizing their achievement with the UAE project. It is time for the Korean government to restore the public's confidence and alleviate their anxiety by reinforcing the safety of power plants that are currently either in operation or under construction with thorough and meticulous inspection. Moreover, relevant experts should communicate with the public to help them get a better understanding of the facts.
What we also need right now is to try to look at the situation with a calmer and more reasonable attitude. Such a competitive product as 'atomic power' into which many technicians and researchers have put efforts should not be stopped from further improvement. In addition to rigorous analysis of the process and result of Fukushima accident, Korea should spur developing future technologies including ITER, SMR (SMART), and Nu-Tech 2012. Now is by all means one of the most critical opportunities for the country to move forward.
Even at this moment, many people with serious illnesses are being helped by radiation therapy at hospitals. Atomic power plays a crucial role in cancer diagnoses as well. It is one of the most useful sources of energy that will provide an alternative to climate change and other environmental issues. There is a long way to go from this sentimental trauma after the Fukushima catastrophe. France recently declared to enhance their atomic power industries, and we should also remember that vague fear and uninformed distrust could interfere with the nation's growth. Atomic power has contributed to Korea's rapid economic development, and it deserves better understanding and more reasonable evaluation.