The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Budget abuse

DP scraps budget for nuclear ecosystem, while increasing renewable energy budget

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 23, 2023 - 05:31

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The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea eliminated the entire government budget to build the nation's nuclear power ecosystem in a related standing committee on Monday.

The Yoon Suk Yeol administration planned to run seven programs on a budget of 181.4 billion won ($140 million) next year. The party removed all of them.

There is no reason for this other than the fact that the Yoon administration placed a high priority on the revival of nuclear power industry.

The party's removal of all nuclear budget items raises suspicions that it is trying to revive the previous Moon Jae-in administration's policy to phase out nuclear energy. It also shows the party's attempts to dictate policy in the budget review.

The Democratic Party cited that economic feasibility and safety of the nuclear budget items were not sufficiently checked. This is an unconvincing and lame excuse.

Meanwhile, the party sharply increased budgets related to new renewable energy that the Moon administration tried to develop as an alternative to nuclear after declaring the nuclear phase-out policy. It also drastically increased the budget for Korea Institute of Energy Technology, a university established to fulfill Moon's election pledge and funded mostly by Korea Electric Power Corp., which was suffering astronomical deficits due to the Moon's nuclear policy. The ruling People Power Party boycotted the standing committee vote in protest against the Democratic Party's revised budget bill.

The removal of budgets for nuclear power export guarantee and financial support raises concerns not only about ongoing efforts to win new contracts but also about existing contracts to provide nuclear power plant equipment in overseas markets.

It is particularly irresponsible and thoughtless to eliminate the budget for research and development on small modular reactors. The Yoon administration has pushed SMR research and development as an important project to secure less expensive and stable energy source.

The Yoon government is speeding up R&D after launching the SMR Alliance of 11 public institutions and 31 private enterprises. If the budget bill as revised by the Democratic Party finally passes the Assembly plenary session, research and development programs on small reactors will stop. The United States, France and other countries are spending large amounts on developing small modular reactors. As long as the majority opposition party impedes the government policy in this situation, Korea risks falling behind the global competition.

Small modular reactors that are attracting attention as next-generation atomic power plants were selected as a new growth field by the Moon administration. Lee Jae-myung, leader of the Democratic Party, pledged to work on developing them during his presidential campaign. Nevertheless, the party removed the budget. It was a vengeful move seemingly intended to abolish the current government's energy policy.

The Democratic Party allocated hundreds of billion won to budgets for renewable energy projects such as solar and related financial support, while deleting nuclear budgets. Recently the Board of Audit and Inspection found evidence of widespread illegal favors and irregularities in connection with the operation of the Moon government's solar power programs. The party would have little to say even if it faces suspicion that it is trying to resurrect a corrupt cartel of solar businesses and public officials.

Presently in Korea, solar farms are concentrated on the southeastern region and not backed up by electrical grids. Moreover, topographically and climatically, Korea is not suitable for solar power. For Korea, it is appropriate to shift focus from solar to small reactors and allot R&D budget accordingly.

Probably the Democratic Party knows this. And yet it sticks to its guns. Reviving the nation's nuclear industry leads to its future growth engine. It is questionable if the party views damage to national interest as a side issue as long as it can block the Yoon government from reopening an era of nuclear energy.

A government budget that was curtailed in a standing committee will go to the Special Committee on Budget & Accounts then to the plenary session. The public is watching the Democratic Party's "budget tyranny" that cuts short the policies of the Yoon government.