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To close nuclear plants, Korea needs new tech

July 07,2017
The Moon Jae-in government has decided to establish a research institute dedicated to researching the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, an expertise that Korea will need.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced Thursday that it will come up with details on the institute by the end of this year.

“We believe it is necessary not only to develop key technologies that we don’t have but also to train specialists in this field,” said Ahn Chang-yong, a director at the Trade Ministry. “We also need to build ties between industries and scholars and will do our best to exchange information with other developed countries.”

According to the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corporation (KHNP) on Thursday, it has 41 technologies out of the 58 that are needed to decommission nuclear power plants. It will try to develop the rest by 2021.

“We will work on commercializing key technologies, while also focusing on developing 11 types of equipment required to decommission the Kori-1 Nuclear Power Plant by 2027,” said Lee Jong-sul, a director at the KHNP.

Moon’s promise to shut down nuclear plants for safety and environmental reasons has been criticized for being expensive and endangering Korea’s exports of nuclear power plants. Korea is one of the top three countries in the field globally.

The government announced its plan to completely shut down the Kori-1 power plant last month and started preparing for its decommissioning, which will cost about 600 billion won ($518.4 million).

The process is complicated and requires various technologies and experience.

It takes at least 15 years to completely close down a nuclear power plant if everything goes as planned. The United States, Germany and Japan are the only countries that have decommissioned nuclear plants.

Mic Kang, Vice President and a senior analyst at Moody’s said the KHNP will face the risk of cost overruns in nuclear decommissioning because the company doesn’t have experience.

Meanwhile, 417 professors from 60 universities across the country and abroad released a joint statement Wednesday urging the government to reconsider the policy and have it discussed thoroughly.

They argued that nuclear energy allowed people to enjoy affordable electricity for decades. The scholars said the issue should be discussed at the National Assembly and that the government should come up with long-term energy plans.

“Nuclear power plants, which require high technologies, create lots of jobs and have good profitability,” said Chung Bum-jin, a nuclear engineering professor at Kyung Hee University. “It makes no sense to push forward with renewable energy, which has low competitiveness. Demand for electricity will rise significantly from now on as the era of artificial intelligence and electric vehicles is coming. We might have to depend on other countries’ technologies as the number of specialists in the nuclear energy sector will drop if the government pushes its nuclear-free policy without thorough discussions.”

BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]