The port city of Samcheok had applied and been chosen to host the project under its previous administration in 2010. But its current mayor, elected this year, wants the plan scrapped in what analysts say is a reflection of shifting Korean attitudes since 2011’s Fukushima disaster in Japan. The result of the vote was not surprising, commentators said, as one of the current mayor’s campaign promises was to ditch the nuclear plan.
The ‘no’ option received around 85 per cent of the vote, with supporters of the plant project reportedly boycotting the process. The results were tallied by a volunteer committee after election authorities refused to participate.
Despite the vote, South Korea’s energy ministry said the construction plan would remain in place, calling the referendum illegal.
"The ministry would like to make it clear that the referendum has no legal effect," officials said in a statement. "However, given the vote was conducted because of concerns about the nuclear safety, we will carry out a 'safety first' nuclear policy."
South Korea aims to build 16 new nuclear reactors by 2030, doubling its current capacity. But earlier this year the government announced that it would reduce its planned share of nuclear in the nation’s energy mix, from 41 per cent by 2030 down to 29 per cent, in response to public opinion.