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[Editorial] Boost nuclear energy

For the first time in nine years, government plans to build new nuclear power plants

By Korea Herald

Published : July 14, 2023 - 05:30

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The government expressed its intention to construct new nuclear power plants.

Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Lee Chang-yang said in the 29th meeting of the Energy Committee on Monday that it is necessary to consider expanding capacity to supply nuclear energy and hydrogen to meet the increasing demand for electric power.

The Yoon Suk Yeol administration scrapped the previous Moon Jae-in administration's policy, which was to phase out nuclear energy in favor of transitioning more rapidly to renewable energy, but it is the first time for the Yoon government to decide to consider building new atomic power plants.

If the ministry includes the construction of new nuclear power plants in the 11th basic plan expected to be finalized next year, it would be the first time in nine years after the government last planned to build new nuclear plants in the 7th basic plan in 2015.

The basic plan on electricity demand and supply, drawn up every two years, is a kind of medium-to-long-term blueprint for the government's energy policy over the next 15 years.

The Yoon administration discarded the Moon administration's nuclear phase-out policy but its measures so far have fallen short of constructing new nuclear power plants. All it has done is to extend the lifetime of existing nuclear power plants and resume the construction of Shin Hanul 3 and 4 that was suspended by the Moon government.

The ministry's move is a return to the right policy, which shows the Yoon administration's will to restore and develop the nation's nuclear industry.

A stable supply of electric power is far too important in almost all areas of a modern society, from everyday life to high-tech industries.

Electricity consumption cannot but increase as the scale of the economy grows and incomes increase.

The total amount of electricity used in South Korea surged from 118 terawatt-hours in 1990 to 555 TWh last year.

It is likely that demand for electric power will keep increasing fast, particularly due to new investments in high-tech industries such as semiconductors and secondary batteries and the spread of electric vehicles.

The government plans to create the world's largest semiconductor cluster in Yongin, located in the Seoul metropolitan area. It is estimated that the complex will require more than 7 gigawatt power in 2042 when Samsung Electronics Co. is expected to run five production lines.

Korea should utilize solar and wind power, but considering its natural conditions, it will likely be difficult for existing renewable energy technologies and methods alone to meet the exploding demand for electric power.

Nuclear energy does not only enable a stable supply of electricity regardless of weather but it is also cost-effective. According to Korea Electric Power Corp., nuclear power cost 52.5 won ($0.04) per kilowatt-hour, much cheaper than unit costs of bituminous coal (157.9 won), anthracite (202.4 won) and liquefied natural gas (239.3 won).

Also, nuclear energy, which emits less carbon dioxide while operating compared to coal or natural gas, is seen as a path for South Korea to approach carbon neutrality, and all the more so because the Moon administration promised the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 to the international community.

A plan to construct new nuclear power plants seems to be overdue. A year and two months have already passed since the Yoon administration began.

The five years that the previous government spent pushing to eliminate nuclear energy took a toll.

The nuclear proportion in the country's total quantity of power generation moved in the 30 percent range for three years to 2016 but stayed in the 20 percent level throughout Moon's presidency.

It takes a long time to construct a nuclear power plant. Difficult processes such as securing a site and persuading residents are involved.

To make up for the five-year blank of the Moon administration as much as possible, the government must speed up the process of constructing nuclear power plants -- from now on.