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A half-baked energy plan

June 30,2017
The suspension of construction of Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear reactors as a part of President Moon Jae-in’s pledge to phase out of nuclear power raises procedural concerns. A single cabinet meeting should not reverse a long-term energy plan. The government decided in a meeting that it would temporarily halt the construction of two reactors and decide on their fate after public debate for three months. A committee comprised of 10 “neutral” civilian representatives would study various cases and work to draw public consensus.

It sounds reasonable enough. But starting major state infrastructure construction and nixing it is an entirely different problem. Even if it does not approve of the measures of the past government, the new administration has put credibility in public policy in question by halting construction that was initiated after location study, government approval, and safety assessment by the Nuclear Safety Commission.

The design of the two reactors had been made extra carefully following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011. Industry watchers believe leaving the decision in the hands of non-experts is the new government’s clever excuse to storm ahead with its nuclear phase-out plan.

The financial loss is, first of all, massive. According to the government, it would lose about 2.6 trillion won ($2.27 billion), including the 1.6 trillion won that already went into the project and 1 trillion won in compensation to the builders. The industry-wide toll is immeasurable when nuclear reactors are no longer built and active ones are prevented from operation beyond their original lifespan. The hard-to-build technology and supply chain will be wrecked. Nuclear reactor exports would also no longer become possible.

Compensating for nuclear power, which is currently responsible for a third of the nation’s electricity, is another major concern. The government has already pledged to reduce the share of fossil-fueled power stations in order to reduce fine dust pollution. It vows to replace the generating source with natural gas and renewable energy but the move would send utility fees up. It does not say how it plans to persuade the public.

Once it is wrecked, the nuclear power infrastructure cannot be rebuilt. Phasing out of nuclear power must be a long-term plan based on public consensus and should not be an agenda to be rushed through a single five-year term. The government must not push it ahead because it has been a campaign pledge. Switzerland held a referendum five times on the issue and Germany phased out of nuclear power over a period of more than 10 years. The decision should go through legislative review and vote. If a conclusion is difficult, it should be put to a public vote. Instead of leaving the matter to a select group of civilians, it must be discussed at legislative hearing.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 29, Page 30