Indonesian coal plant taints South Korea’s green pledge

(Reuters) – Indonesian fisherman Ramidin says he used to catch stingray by paddling just off the shore of his village, but as a giant coal power complex nearby has expanded over the last three decades, he has had to venture further and further out to sea.

Now, state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) has confirmed it will partner Indonesia to add two more 1,000 megawatt units to the complex in Suralaya, which residents fear will further increase water and air pollution in the area.

KEPCO’s announcement late last month came despite South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s “Green New Deal” that was launched ahead of his party’s April parliamentary election victory and included loose pledges to end support for coal, at home and overseas.

The Java 9 and 10 units will be built and maintained by Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction Company, which received a nearly $3 billion bailout from South Korean state banks and institutions this year.

Greenpeace says the $3.5 billion expansion project could result in up to 1,500 premature deaths over the typical 30-year lifespan of a coal-fired power plant, as well as affect the air in the capital Jakarta, a city of 10 million people that lies 120 km (75 miles) to the east.

Many residents in Suralaya, on the western tip of Java, Indonesia’s most populous island, worry that the expanded coal complex will lock in decades of pollution that has plagued the once pristine village since the power complex began operating in 1984.

“It used to be able to catch fish closer to the shore but since those power plants were built, the waste may affect the fish, and they went away,” said Ramidin. “We didn’t use the motor (boat) back then. We only used the paddle to get fish.”

The Indonesian government and KEPCO say the new coal units will use the latest technology to minimise pollution. Local residents are sceptical.

“I’m also scared but what can I do?” said 51-year-old street vendor Sarwati, who sold her tofu salad and peanut sauce on a tourist beach before relocating to the centre of town after the most recent expansion of the Suralaya plant in 2011.

“I can only pray and believe in God to protect us.”

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