SEOUL, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- South Korea has reiterated its commitment to increase its share of nuclear power.
"There is no change in the government's nuclear energy policy," Yonhap News quoted Hong Suk-woo, South Korea's minister of Knowledge Economy, the government arm in charge of the country's energy affairs, as saying.
"The government will continue to construct nuclear power plants."
Hong's comments came after the government's announcement last week of two proposed sites for nuclear power plants: Yeongdeok in North Gyeongsang province and Samcheok in Gangwon province, both about 190 miles from Seoul.
The government is expected to make a final decision on the sites by late 2012 following on-site inspections and environmental surveys.
"Our long-term power supply plan is to increase the portion of nuclear power from the current 30 percent to 40 percent by 2040 and the plan has not changed," The Korea Herald newspaper quoted an unnamed official from the Knowledge Economy Ministry, as saying.
South Korea has 21 active nuclear reactors. In addition to seven reactors under construction, South Korea plans to build 11 new reactors by 2030.
Following Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, many countries, including Germany, Switzerland and Italy, planned to phase out or cut back their nuclear facilities.
In light of Fukushima, the South Korean official said it would be "highly important" to "repeatedly" check on the safety of the country's proposed nuclear plants.
In Yeongdeok, the proposed nuclear plant appears to have the overall backing of residents, who view the project as a potential vehicle to rejuvenate the local economy. Yet there is concern due to the region's vulnerability toward natural disasters such as earthquakes.
But Samcheok Gov. Choi Moon-soon questioned the timing of the announcement.
"It's hard to understand the government is pushing ahead with its nuclear expansion program at a time when there is no national consensus and public understanding of the safety of the plan," Choi said in a Korea Herald report.
There were protests Monday in Seoul, Yeongdeok and Samcheok calling for the government to drop its nuclear energy policy.
"The government's latest site selection completely neglects a global anti-nuclear trend that has been reigning supreme since the Fukushima meltdown in March," environmental group Green Korea United said in a statement.
South Korea, the world's fourth-largest importer of crude oil, experienced a series of blackouts in September. Earlier this month the government introduced initiatives aimed at curbing power consumption.