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Idealism has its price

June 20,2017
South Korea’s first nuclear power reactor, the Kori-1, was formerly retired on Monday after 40 years of service. President Moon Jae-in attended a ceremonial shutdown and reiterated his commitment to completely phase out nuclear power by 2040. Plans to build new reactors and work to extend the life of active ones will be scrapped. After seeking public approval, he may also halt construction on two additional reactors being built in the Kori complex. The government will soon announce a roadmap to wean Korea off the nuclear electricity that currently makes up a third of its total power supply.

Countries across the globe have been reassessing nuclear power after the disastrous meltdown in Japan in 2011. But Korea doesn’t want to go back to relying on imports to power the nation. Nuclear power is highly cost-effective, which has helped to keep the Korean industrial powerhouse competitive. The life of a nuclear reactor is limited. Of 25 active reactors, 12 are designed to continue operating up to 2030.

The government revisits its 15-year basic energy supply plan every two years. It decided two additional reactors were necessary to replace aging ones to ensure uninterrupted supply. Stopping the construction without a clear alternative supply is not wise. Electric demand has risen 4.4 percent on average per year. The reserve ratio is often insufficient, threatening blackouts during heat waves.

Energy plans must be based on thorough study. Any major shift requires legislative review and public consensus. The countries that have gone nuclear-free are different from us. The economies of Switzerland and Sweden are not that big and they have diversified energy sources. Germany is pursuing a long-term plan to phase out nuclear power after it received a go-ahead from its parliament. Despite increased supplies from renewable energy, electricity bills have jumped by 40 percent. Germany has to buy power from nuclear reactors in France. Despite the Fukushima disaster, Japan has gone back to nuclear power and is building reactors. It could not find better options.

Koreans pay just half of the utility fees charged to people in other developed economies thanks to their commercial nuclear power. Instead of pursuing a purely idealistic agenda, the government must come up with a realistic energy plan.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 20, Page 30