Moon urged to halt South Korean nuclear exit

05 July 2017

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been urged to consider the climate and environmental impacts of phasing out the use of nuclear energy in the country. Moon used the permanent shutdown of Kori unit 1 last month to outline his intended nuclear energy phase-out policy.

Moon was one of seven candidates in the May presidential election who signed an agreement in March for a "common policy" for phasing out the country's use of nuclear energy. At a ceremony on 19 June to mark the permanent shutdown of Kori 1, he said plans for new power reactors will be cancelled and the operating periods of existing units will not be extended beyond their design life.

An open letter to Moon signed by 27 international scientists and conservationists - including climate scientist James Hansen - calls for Moon to reconsider his policy. It says, "If South Korea withdraws from nuclear the world risks losing a valuable supplier of cheap and abundant energy needed to lift humankind out of poverty and solve the climate crisis."

The letter notes there is strong consensus among climate policy experts that an expansion of nuclear energy is needed to achieve a significant reduction in carbon emissions and improvement in air quality.

"Over the last 20 years, South Korea has earned a global reputation for its ability to build well-tested and cost-effective nuclear plants," it says. "South Korea is the only nation where the cost of nuclear plant construction has declined over time. And in the United Arab Emirates, South Korean firm Kepco has proven it can build cost-effective nuclear power plants abroad just as it can at home."

The signatories to the letter claim a nuclear phase-out in South Korea would "profoundly undermine efforts" by Kepco to compete for nuclear new build contracts abroad. "Buyer nations would rightly question why they should buy nuclear plants from a nation phasing out its nuclear."

"Solar and wind are not alternatives to nuclear," the letter states. Given the intermittent nature of solar and wind and South Korea's land scarcity, replacing the country's nuclear power plants would require a significant increase in the use of coal and/or natural gas. This would prevent South Korea meeting its climate commitments and would increase air pollution.

"Instead of phasing out nuclear, we encourage you to lead an effort to both make nuclear even safer and more cost-economical than it already is through the development and demonstration of accident-tolerant fuels and new plant designs."

The signatories "strongly encourage" Moon to "deliberate with a wide range of energy and environmental scientists and experts" before making any final decisions.

Academics oppose shutdown

Publication of the letter came as a group of several hundred South Korean university professors and scholars also called on the president to drop his nuclear phase-out plans.

The group has called for the government to "immediately halt the push to extinguish the nuclear energy industry that provides cheap electricity to the general public", according to the Yonhap news agency.

Some 410 professors - including those from Seoul National University and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology - called for the phase-out plan to be carried out only after extensive deliberation, not only by government officials by also by industry experts.

Moon has cited concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants due to earthquakes as one reason for the phase-out policy. However, the academics argue that South Korea's plants are capable of withstanding any kind of earthquake that may hit the Korean Peninsula and there is little chance of a Fukushima-like accident happening there.

South Korea has 24 power reactors in operation with a combined generating capacity of 22,505 MWe. Together they provide about one-third of the country's electricity.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News