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It’s all in the numbers

July 17,2017
The Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corporation, which operates nuclear plants across the country, held a board meeting to endorse the government decision to temporarily halt construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 reactors. The government and KHNP argued that the procedure was necessary to activate a civilian-led commission in charge of reviewing and gauging public opinion about decommissioning reactors under construction.

An independent commission will discuss the pros and cons of building additional nuclear generators and leave the fate of the two reactors in the hands of a civilian jury. But given the controversy and extreme polarization in opinion, the validity of the commission’s formation and its decision could be questioned. The commission activity therefore must be thoroughly transparent and based on objective facts and data.

The data released on Friday already raised concerns. According to the government’s eighth energy supply and demand outline from 2017 to 2031, energy demand in 2030 was estimated to be 10 percent lower than was projected two years ago. Maximum electricity demand in 2030 is now estimated at 101.9 Gigawatts, compared with 113.2 GW estimated two years ago. Using such an estimate, the government could argue that it will not need extra reactors. This raises the question of whether the government is cherry-picking data to suit its policy.

The trade, industry and energy ministry argued that the data were revised using an objective model. It claimed the revision in demand estimates were based on growth outlooks. In the last outline, the energy supply and demand was estimated on growth prospects of 3.4 percent. In the latest data, it estimated growth at 2.5 percent. The growth estimates were borrowed from the state-run Korea Development Institute. Korea’s growth outlook has been weakening. But it does not make sense that government growth estimates can be pared 1.1 percentage points in just two years. It was either overly optimistic then or has become conservative to meet the new administration’s policy now.

Poor estimates could lead to a blackout as in 2011. The overly conservative energy plan of the government under President Roh Moo-hyun led to a power shortage crisis in the following five years.

Conservatives and liberals differ greatly in their views on nuclear power. But one cannot persuade the opposing side with data tailored for its own argument. The previous government should face criticism for over-investment in nuclear reactors if it inflated demand estimates.

On the same grounds, the incumbent government should face criticism if it is playing with the numbers to support the case that we should wean ourselves off nuclear power.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 15, Page 26