Voters in a South Korean city have rejected plans to build a nuclear power plant in a referendum the government says has no legal effect.

Thursday's vote in Samcheok, on South Korea's east coast, went as expected following this year's election of a mayor who wants the government to scrap nuclear plant.

The city was picked for the nuclear plant following an application by Samcheok's previous administration. But attitudes have shifted since Japan's 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

Some 85 percent of the 28,867 residents who cast ballots said no, according to a volunteer committee set up to administer the referendum after election authorities refused. Out of 42,488 who registered to take part, turnout was 68 percent.

Supporters of the nuclear plant boycotted the vote. The city has 61,000 registered voters in total.

The result underlined a split between the national government, which is pushing nuclear power as a cheap energy source in a country that imports almost all its oil and gas, and residents who are increasingly wary about safety.

"I will persuade the national government based on this result," the Samcheok mayor, Kim Yang-ho, told Yonhap News Agency. "I hope the government's policy will reflect Samcheok citizens' real opinion."

South Korea relies on its 23 nuclear reactors for about one-quarter of its power. Plans call for increasing that to 29 percent by 2035, which would require adding 7 gigawatts of generating capacity, or the equivalent of five 1.4-gigawatt reactors.

South Koreans' pride in the country's nuclear power industry has eroded since scandals erupted last year over revelations hundreds of faulty components may have been used in reactors.

The public also has become more sensitive to safety after an April ferry sinking killed hundreds of people and fueled complaints the country emphasized profit over safety.

The energy ministry expressed regret and the power plant construction remained in place.

"The ministry would like to make it clear that the referendum has no legal effect," said a ministry statement. "However, given the vote was conducted because of concerns about the nuclear safety, we will carry out a 'safety first' nuclear policy."