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(3rd LD) S. Korea picks site for new science belt
SEOUL, May 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has selected the final candidate site for its new science belt that could help the nation take the lead in cutting-edge technologies, a joint government-private committee said Monday.

   The science business belt selection committee said the Daedeok district in the northern part of Daejeon, located 164 kilometers south of Seoul, will host the National Basic Science Institute and a particle accelerator, which are key research facilities in the project.

   "Seoul aims to build two areas within the district as a global hub for basic scientific research," said Minister of Education, Science and Technology Lee Ju-ho, who chairs the committee.

   He said besides Daedeok, which will be the main base for the national science belt, Cheongwon, Yeongi and Cheonan, all in Chungcheong provinces, have been tapped to carry out associated research and development (R&D), and training of expert personnel.

   These regions will also help allow advances in R&D to be shared with the country's businesses community.

   Lee said technology universities in North Gyeongsang Province and Gwangju are to take part in cooperative science projects led by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon.

   "The Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, and Pohang University of Science and Technology will become part of a 'combined KAIST campus' to push forward R&D," the minister said.

   He said Seoul will inject 5.2 trillion won (US$4.76 billion) in the next seven years for the project, up 1.7 trillion won from the 2009 blueprint. Of the total, 3.5 trillion won will go to Daedeok and KAIST's combined campus program, with the rest to be divided among other regions.

   Daedeok will host the 410 billion won Korea Rare Isotope Accelerator along with the country's new basic science institute that will employee up to 3,000 top notch scientists. Of the 50 "site laboratories" belonging to the basic science institute, half will be in Daejeon with the rest to be split between the other locations.

   The selection committee, meanwhile, claimed every effort was made to make the selection in a fair and transparent manner. It stressed of the five sites that made the final list, Daedeok received a combined 75.01 points, far higher than the 64.99 points received by runner-up Daegu Technopolis.

   "The screening process that began on April 7 with the help of leading scientists in the country checked geological features, safety from natural disaster, available space, development costs, overall support infrastructure and amenities for scientists," it said.

   The selection of Daedeok was expected since many laboratories and universities are already in the city, allowing it to receive high marks in availability of high quality researchers and good R&D infrastructure facilities. Good infrastructure is needed to attract leading scientists from abroad and within the country.

   Once the national science infrastructure is fully set up around 2017, South Korea will be able to carry out key experiments in such fields as chemistry, physics and other applied sciences. The belt can help the country become a global technology leader instead of copying the knowhow of others.

   Such developments could open new industrial opportunities and lay a firm foundation for long-term economic growth.

   The science belt project is a key campaign pledge made by President Lee Myung-bak in 2007, with the National Assembly passing related laws in December. Originally over 50 regions applied to host the science belt, with 10 passing the preliminary screening process last month.

   Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik asked for the people's understanding of the government's decision, stressing that Daejeon was considered the best site for maximizing the state's science-technology capabilities.

   "I understand the government selected a region with the best concentration of research capabilities and where the project can quickly proceed," Kim said in a statement read before reporters.

   "We hope the people will accept this decision with a more open mind, as the government tried to make the best choice for the future of the state," he said.

   The selection triggered strong protests from politicians who are based in the Jeolla and Gyeongsang regions, which vied for the project believing it could boost their economies.

   Rep. Lee In-ki, chief of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP)'s local chapter in North Gyeongsang Province, has staged a hunger strike at the National Assembly in protest of the decision.

   The lawmaker said the province has been discriminated against in hosting the state-run project just because President Lee hails from the region.

   Legislators from Gwangju and Jeolla provinces also argued that the science belt site was decided on political terms, not through fair and objective assessments as claimed by the government.