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Saemangeum Latest Mega Project to Stall on Green Protests

Digital Chosunilbo, Feb 4, 2005

Seoul, South Korea -- National mega projects are floundering on environmental protests and concerns over their viability. The second stage of Seoul-Pusan bullet train service has now been suspended the second time due to opposition from a hunger-striking Buddhist nun, and the massive Saemangeum reclamation project in the waters off Gunsan and Buan, North Jeolla Province now faces a halt with a mere 8 percent of construction remaining. Meanwhile, a nuclear waste dump is unlikely to get past the planning stage due to opposition from environmental groups and locals.

In a lawsuit brought by environmental groups calling for the suspension of the Saemangeum reclamation project, Seoul Administrative Court ruled Friday partially in favor of the plaintiffs by ordering the government to cancel or alter the project. As the decision is likely to go through several appeals, the project will likely drift for some time.

"Changes great enough to destroy the ecology and cancel the project have occurred,? the court said in its ruling. ?With the cost of improving the quality of water of the Mangyeong River valley continuing to rise, the Saemangeum project is no longer economically viable." It added that because the project was likely to stall due to the conflict, ?this court previously advised for construction to be suspended and a joint task force formed to reconsider the project and come up with new plans.? The bench said it was ?unfortunate that the government did not accept our recommendations, and we still think the government should put their heads together and solve this issue in a rational fashion."

The Saemangeum project is a massive engineering operation that began in 1991 and was scheduled for completion in 2014 at a cost of W4.78 trillion(US4.66 billion). It now faces termination after W2.24 trillion has been spent on it.

The second stage of the Seoul-Busan bullet train (Daegu-Busan) will also face delays of more than a year, mainly due to opposition from environmentalists. The second stage, which began in 2002 with the goal of beginning service in 2008, has now seen tunnel construction through Yangsan's Mount Cheonseong and Busan's Mount Geumjeong suspended. The Mount Cheonseong tunnel had already been held up for more than a year, and with the government agreeing Thursday to the demand of Buddhist nun Ji-yul for a three-month environmental impact study, faces another suspension. The W2 trillion project has already resulted in social losses of roughly the same amount due to delays, the Korea Rail Network Authority said. SK and Hyundai construction companies stand to lose another W4-5 billion for every month construction is suspended, while 400 laborers who were to work on the project will lose their jobs.

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