[News Focus] Moon’s nuclear-free Korea faces backlash

By Shin Ji-hye

Major losses of two-largest energy public corporations prompt critics to raise voices

  • Published : Aug 15, 2018 - 18:42
  • Updated : Aug 15, 2018 - 18:48

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s anti-nuclear campaign is facing backlash from critics with the recent scorching heat and massive losses of energy public corporations prompting concerns for what they claim could lead to industrywide fallout.

Korea’s anti-nuclear drive was one of Moon’s key pledges during his election campaign in 2017, with a plan to shift the nation’s energy reliance from nuclear power to renewable energy, and the aim of reducing pollution and creating new industries and jobs.

On June 19, 2017 when the government declared the permanent shuttering of the nation’s first reactor, Kori-1, Moon officially made clear the nation would move toward a nuclear-free era. In December, the government mapped out a new energy plan to increase the portion of renewable energy to 20 percent in 2030.

Soon, the anti-nuclear move became a political hot potato mainly between environmentalists and the nuclear industry. While environmentalists welcome the decision as the nation moving toward clean and safe energy, critics say it will increase the burden on the public in the form of increased electricity charges.

The voice of the critics further accelerated upon an unprecedented heat wave and operating losses suffered by the nation’s two largest public energy corporations. 

On Monday, the state-run Korea Electric Power Corp., which is responsible for over 90 percent of Korea’s electricity generation, announced Monday it posted an operating loss of 814 billion won ($720 million) in the first half of the year, a loss for three straight quarters for the first time in six years.

The following day, Kepco subsidiary Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power said it posted an operating loss of 548.2 billion won during the same period.

The major losses came from lower nuclear utilization and high costs of using alternative energy.

The operation rate of nuclear power plants was reduced from 75 percent in the first half of last year to 59 percent during the same period this year. Instead, the proportion of more expensive coal and liquefied natural gas increased, which cost Kepco an extra 4 trillion won in energy generation, according to its regulatory filings.

Chung Beom-jin, a professor at Kyung Hee University’s nuclear engineering college, said, “The government’s vague fear of nuclear power plant has destroyed Kepco. The losses of Kepco will ultimately burden the public.”

Yoon Young-seok, a spokesman for the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, said the massive loss of Kepco was already expected when Moon pushed for the “anti-nuclear campaign without increasing electricity charges.”

The government immediately refuted such claims, saying the losses of the energy corporations have nothing to do with its new energy policies.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy’s spokesperson said Wednesday, “The losses of Kepco and KHNP did not stem from the government’s anti-nuclear policies. That came from the temporary suspension of nuclear power plants for safety inspections.”

“Kepco’s earnings are expected to recover in the latter half given seasonal profit and loss structure,” he added.

Despite the inevitable rise of electricity charges, a majority of the public was found to approve of the government’s anti-nuclear campaign, according to the private-run Hyundai Research Institute, which surveyed 1,009 Koreans in June.

The survey indicated that 84.6 percent of respondents approved of the government’s policy to reduce nuclear power plants and coal generation and to increase renewable energy. Some 60 percent of respondents said the speed of the policies to shift energy is appropriate or should be hastened.

By Shin Ji-hye (