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The other nuke problem

June 29,2018
Korea’s top incubator of talent in science and technology, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, faces a brain drain in the field of nuclear energy. According to the prestigious school, none of the 94 sophomores who must select their major by the fall semester have applied for nuclear and quantum engineering. As a result, only five from those who started school in 2017 will graduate with a degree in nuclear energy. The number is pitiful compared to the 35 students in the class of 2015.

The same is the case at other top schools. The nuclear engineering departments at Seoul National University, Hanyang University and Chung-Ang University have been witnessing shrinking class sizes. President Moon Jae-in’s policy of phasing out nuclear power has influenced the future of science majors.

Commercial nuclear technology is one of few areas of applied science in which Korea excels. Along with France, the United States, Japan, and Russia, Korea is ranked top-class with an accident-free record in the history of its self-developed reactors. The government has been trying to save the hard-earned technology by pitching it as export, while pressing ahead with its policy to wean the country off nuclear power. But that cannot convince aspiring science engineers. Without a flow of talent in the sector, there is no future for our nuclear reactor technology.

The government’s decision to scrap nuclear reactors — which can generate cheap electricity in a resource-hungry Korea without environmental damage — raises deep concerns about balancing energy supply and demand in the future. Yet the government remains steadfast in its policy to go nuclear-free. As soon as the ruling party won the local elections on June 13 in a landslide, the government shut down the Wolsong 1 reactor even though it had not reached its original lifespan and canceled the previous administration’s projects to build four reactors. The Moon government has paid little heed to the billions in cost for dismantling an active reactor. Moreover, hundreds of jobs could be lost.

Elsewhere in the world, nuclear reactors are expanding even in oil-producing regions. Nuclear energy research backed by the United States and China is drawing talent. Korea alone is going in the opposite direction and sending decades of our accomplishments down the drain.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 28, Page 34