The new South Korean government of Park Geun-hye looks unlikely to waver from its predecessor's staunch support for the country's nuclear energy program.
Park, who took office on 25 February, has not explained in detail how she will run her country's nuclear energy industry. However, judging by recent general comments by the president and her officials, analysts predict her nuclear energy policy will be almost identical to that of her predecessor Lee Myung-bak, who served as president for five years.
|Park Geun-hye, South Korea's first female president (Image: Korea.net)
Like Lee, Park is expected to promote domestic nuclear power plant development and reactor exports, such as the historic $20 billion deal signed in December 2009, under the Lee administration, with the United Arab Emirates for the supply of four reactors. This order marked the first time South Korea beat rival offers from other countries to export nuclear reactors.
Sheen Seongho, an associate professor at Seoul National University and an expert on South Korean nuclear issues, says official statements - such as the policy road map outlining the Park administration's key goals that her presidential transition team announced last month - show "she plans to continue Mr Lee's vigorous support for South Korea's atomic energy sector."
The 140 policy tasks contained in the road map include "boosting reactor exports, an objective the Lee administration shared, and introducing more stringent nuclear power plant safeguards in South Korea, a continuation of a policy Mr Lee adopted after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster," said Sheen. "I think her support for South Korea's atomic energy program will be even stronger than Mr Lee's; having majored in electronic engineering in college, she'll likely take a greater, personal interest in science-related policies," he added.
Park Hi-chun, an economics professor at Inha University who has advised the Korean government on nuclear energy policy, said Fukushima's public relations legacy meant there was no room for error: "Atomic safety concerns foreign suppliers of South Korea's nuclear parts and countries [that] Seoul hopes to export reactors to, as well as local environmentalists and residents who protest against and oppose construction of additional reactors here."
According to Park Hi-chun, "Despite stiff resistance to building more nuclear power plants in South Korea after Fukushima, Ms Park wants to overcome that and install more reactors. This was Mr Lee's stance also." South Korea currently operates 23 reactors that provide 30% of its electricity.
Park's road map tasks also include "combating global warming, reducing carbon emissions and fostering the renewable energy industry, policies shared by former president Lee," added Park Hi-chun. "That further indicates she plans to maintain his ambitious nuclear energy program," noting the carbon emission reduction benefits of nuclear power.
By Jennifer Chang
for World Nuclear News