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[Editorial] Swim with the current

With atomic energy back in spotlight abroad, Korea must wake up from nuclear phaseout

Nuclear power has reentered the spotlight overseas as an effective response to climate change and energy issues. At home, heads of state-owned electric power enterprises drew attention for mentioning the need to change the current government’s stubborn nuclear phase-out policy.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address to the nation Tuesday that France would build new nuclear reactors to help the country reduce its dependence on foreign countries for energy and meet carbon emissions targets. Macron gave no details, but his government is expected to announce the construction of up to six new reactors. His address marks a U-turn in his own nuclear power policy. Early in his presidency, he pledged to reduce nuclear power’s contribution to France’s energy mix from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2035.

The UK is trying to fast-track new atomic power. The government committed 210 million pounds ($280 million) to develop small modular reactors in the country, matched by private sector funding of over 250 million pounds.

UK Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the country to deploy more low carbon energy than ever before and ensure greater energy independence.

The ministers of 10 EU member states wrote a joint article published in several European newspapers on Oct. 11. They argued that nuclear power was part of the solution to reducing emissions and strengthening Europe’s self-sufficiency in energy.

The world’s biggest carbon emitter, China, is planning at least 150 new reactors in the next 15 years, according to Bloomberg News. That is more than the rest of the world has built in the past 35.

Japan, which experienced the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, has reportedly adopted a new energy policy that promotes nuclear and renewables.

Cheong Seung-il, president and chief executive of Korea Electric Power Corp., made a remark in a meeting with reporters Thursday to the effect that reducing nuclear’s proportion of the energy mix should be reconsidered if people reach a consensus that Korea needs to increase nuclear power. His remark appears to have been influenced by recent opinion polls that found overwhelming opposition to the phase-out of nuclear energy. Nearly 8 out of 10 respondents opposed the reduction of nuclear contribution. Put another way, Cheong’s words mean that it is right to revise the current policy.

Chung Jae-hoon, president and CEO of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, said during a parliamentary audit on Oct. 21 that he wanted the construction of Shin Hanul units 3 and 4 to resume. It goes against the nuclear phase-out. He added that nuclear power was of help to achieving carbon neutrality.

It is a relief that the heads of electric power enterprises have voiced such opinions, though their remarks have come belatedly in the last stage of Moon’s presidency.

The Moon administration has obstinately pushed an ill-founded nuclear phase-out policy, despite great concern and strong opposition from experts. As a result, Korea’s world-class nuclear power industry built up over the past five decades is crumbling.

Nuclear energy not only has negligible greenhouse gas emissions but also costs less than renewables. However, Korea runs counter to the worldwide trend of increasing nuclear power’s contribution. The Moon administration promised the international community that it would cut back on nuclear power to 6-7 percent of its energy mix by 2050 while expanding renewables to 70 percent. This is a hard promise to keep. It will be a heavy burden on the next administration.

According to a paper in Nature Communications, a science journal, South Korea was ranked the lowest among 42 major countries in terms of the reliability of solar and wind power. This indicates the country’s natural environment is relatively unsuitable to solar and wind power generation.

Korea must break free from its nuclear phase-out illusion. If the current government refuses to swim with the current, the next one must wake up and restore the country’s nuclear industry.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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