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[Editorial] Learn from Taiwan

Government should start public debate on policy to phase out nuclear energy

Taiwanese voters’ rejection of the government’s phase-out of nuclear power have much to teach South Korea.

Taiwan has been regarded by South Korea as a role model for its government policy to wean the nation off nuclear energy.

Before the 2016 presidential election, Tsai Ing-won pledged to make Taiwan a “nuclear-free homeland” and after her election, Taiwan sought to phase out nuclear power.

In January 2017, the Amendment of the Electricity Act passed the parliament, with a new clause stating that all nuclear power generating facilities shall cease operation by 2025.

But in a referendum last weekend, over 5.89 million out of 10.83 million votes were cast in favor of repealing the clause. Five million votes were required to pass the referendum.

Even though the country is earthquake-prone, its people rejected the phase-out of nuclear energy through a referendum about two years after it was adopted as the direction of energy policy. That was because they suffered its side effects.

The nuclear phase-out policy caused a severe power shortages, with a massive blackout hitting many businesses and homes in August, last year. Then a nationwide petition ensued, calling for a referendum on the government’s commitment to go nuclear-free.

The referendum in Taiwan is not a matter South Korea cannot look on with indifference.

The administration under President Moon Jae-in is as committed to phasing out nuclear power as the Taiwanese government is.

The Moon administration’s policy to raise the proportion of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2030 is similar to President Tsai’s, which calls for increasing the share of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2025. Both governments have similar blueprints that they will make up for inevitable power shortage by generating power with natural gas.

If Taiwan returns to a pro-nuclear policy, South Korea will be left alone in Asia seeking to abandon nuclear power.

Countries scaled down nuclear power generation after the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster, but they are coming back to nuclear energy. Japan turned anti-nuclear after the accident, but resumed the operation of its nuclear power plants. France has postponed a policy to reduce the proportion of nuclear energy. The US and Japan recently agreed to cooperate on atomic energy research.

But South Korea is bucking this global trend. As a consequence, its industrial ecology for nuclear power generation is rapidly crumbling.

Korea Electric Power Corp. has run trillion won of deficit since the operation of nuclear power plants was reduced. It will be a matter of time that electricity rates will go up and industrial competitiveness will go down.

In a Gallup Korea poll for the Korean Nuclear Society, released last week, 67.9 percent of respondents supported the expansion or maintenance of the proportion of nuclear power generation. People have realized nuclear power is cheap, stable and clean.

When Moon visits the Czech Republic on Wednesday, he will reportedly ask its leader to help South Korea win a bid to construct nuclear power plants in the country.

It is nonsense for a country to ask other countries to buy its nuclear power plants, while it is mothballing plants at home because they are dangerous and uneconomical.

If Moon wants to see Korean nuclear power plants exported, this misguided policy must be corrected.

A mature country rolls back a wrong policy. Taiwan has shown that aspect.

The Moon government has not asked the people so far if they support or oppose the nuclear phase-out, after deciding to resume the construction of Shin Kori No. 5 and No. 6 nuclear power plants through civilian panel discussions.

How to generate electric power is a crucial policy area. Giving up on nuclear energy shakes the foundation of the nation’s power supply. It is right to ask what the people think before pushing for the policy.

The government needs to take the referendum in Taiwan as a lesson. It should reconsider phasing out nuclear power or start at least a public debate on its energy policy.