South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday made a pitch for atomic power before global leaders, saying its use is inevitable to meet growing energy needs and fight climate change and that accidents like Japan's nuclear disaster can be prevented with strengthened safety measures.
Lee made the case during a keynote speech at a high-level nuclear safety meeting held amid heightened international concerns about atomic power following the nuclear crisis Japan.
Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered massive radiation leaks after it was struck by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the world's worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
"The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant last March dealt a hard blow to confidence in nuclear safety," Lee said in the speech. "However, I do not think that this accident should be cause to renounce nuclear energy. On the contrary, this is a moment to seek ways to promote the safe use of nuclear energy based on scientific evidence."
South Korea is a global atomic energy leader that relies on nuclear plants for about 40 percent of its electricity needs. The country has also been trying to export nuclear power plants since Korean firms won a massive contract in late 2009 to build four atomic power plants in the United Arab Emirates.
"I'm not saying that nuclear energy is the only option to solving future energy problems. Efforts should be stepped up to promote other alternatives such as renewable energy," Lee said.
"Yet the use of nuclear energy is inevitable as there still remain technical and economic limits for alternative energy to meet the rapidly rising global energy demand or to tackle the problem of climate change."
While nuclear energy has the advantages of being an inexpensive and clean energy source, Lee stressed that it can be used more widely when people have greater confidence in its safety as a nuclear accident, though rare, could bring about disastrous outcomes.
Lee proposed three ways to strengthen nuclear safety, including each country coming up with an independent safety regulatory framework to make sure that there are institutional arrangements to put safety before efficiency. Lee said Seoul will launch a presidential commission on nuclear safety as an independent agency next month.