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Scholars must speak up

July 13,2017
President Moon Jae-in declares an end to the era of atomic energy power generation at an event to commemorate the permanent shutdown of Korea’s oldest Kori Nuclear Power Plant in Busan on June 19. [YONHAP]
He is an authority in next-generation solar cells and one of the most-acclaimed renewable energy scientists. Last weekend, I visited his office. When I asked him about solar cells, he gave an irrelevant answer. He began to talk about nuclear energy and was concerned about the nuclear zero policy and suspension of Shin Kori 5 and 6 Nuclear Plants.

With a serious face, he said, “We should not give up nuclear power plants. It is important to maintain the nuclear plants we worked so hard to develop.” He talked about the limits of renewable energy including solar cells. Even with the development of solar cell technologies, it will be hard to go beyond a supplementary energy source, he claimed. Despite serious safety concerns related to nuclear power plants, he argued that it is important in terms of energy diversity.

The immediate shortage from the suspension of nuclear power is to be set off by LNG. According to the Paris Climate Change Agreement, Korea needs to cut down carbon dioxide emission by 37 percent before 2030. Nuclear power generation does not emit carbon dioxide. If LNG power generation increases, carbon dioxide emissions would go up as well. For environmental safety, nuclear power plants are being phased out, but ironically, carbon dioxide emissions may increase. The government has yet to provide complete solutions.

“Unless all citizens stop using energy, the national economic growth and quality of life would fall if nuclear power plants are phased out and the Paris Climate Change Agreement is met,” he said.

As we have seen in the catastrophic Fukushima nuclear accident, anyone would agree that dangerous nuclear power plants need to be phased out and renewable energies need to be developed. However, some people are concerned about suspending nuclear power plant construction and declaring a nuclear phase-out without specific plans. How about we continue with the nuclear power plants and focus on nurturing renewable energy and deregulation? There are strict regulations for solar farms, such as distance from the road. “‘Until energy sources that can replace nuclear power are developed, we have to go with nuclear power,” he said.

Who is this scholar who goes against the nuclear zero policy? Nobody knows because he does not speak up. The Moon Jae-in administration values communication and discussion, but he wishes to remain unidentified. If a scholar or professor criticizes government policy through the media, officials would phone the next morning.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 12, Page 30

*The writer is a deputy industrial news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.