South Korea rebukes opposition over report on plans to build nuclear plant in North Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s presidential office on Friday issued a rebuke to an opposition leader who accused it of “abetting the enemy” after a news report that Seoul had planned to build a nuclear plant in North Korea.

Local broadcaster SBS unveiled a prosecution indictment listing more than a dozen documents from the energy ministry that suggested a previously unknown project to set up a nuclear plant in North Korea.

The documents were among 530 files that prosecutors say the ministry had illegally deleted to conceal that it had distorted feasibility studies to shut down a reactor in South Korea, the report said.

Kim Chong-in, leader of the main opposition People Power Party, called the potential plan a “shocking and appalling act that abets the enemy”.

President Moon Jae-in’s spokesman, Kang Min-seok, accused Kim of making “irresponsible” remarks to stoke ideological strife and “deceive people” ahead of a key by-election in April.

But he declined to comment when asked about whether such plans had existed, or whether Moon’s office had ordered the energy ministry to delete the documents.

“Kim should take responsibility for his comment,” Kang told a briefing, adding the office would pursue legal action.

Prosecutors last month indicted three energy ministry officials on charges of violating the Criminal Act by damaging public records following a state auditor investigation.

The government had decided in 2018 to decommission the South Korean reactor, the Wolsong No.1, earlier than scheduled citing the ministry feasibility studies, in line with liberal President Moon’s pledge to phase out nuclear power, which the conservative opposition opposed.

Some of the files were titled “A plan to build a nuclear plant in North Korea” and “Tasks for phased cooperation to establish electricity infrastructure in North Korea”, according to the SBS report.

Others included lists of energy experts with experience in inter-Korean economic projects, as well as officials who were dispatched to a failed international consortium aimed at building two reactors in the reclusive North in the early 2000s.

At least six documents were dated to May 2018, a month after Moon held his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, SBS said.

Reuters could not verify the list and the individual documents.

The prosecutors’ office was not reachable for comment.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Alex Richardson