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S. Korea faces strong opposition to nuclear power despite growing need

All Headlines 11:19 June 15, 2014

SEJONG, June 15 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government is facing a renewed opposition against nuclear power plants sparked by the recent tragic sinking a passenger ferry while the need for what is considered the cheapest source of power is growing, government officials said Sunday.

The opposition against nuclear power plants gained a new momentum on raised public awareness for safety following the April 16 sinking of the passenger ferry, Sewol, in which 292 people have been confirmed dead with 12 still unaccounted for.

Those who have long opposed nuclear power are again pointing their fingers at nuclear power plants as the most hazardous facilities, which, they claim, could cause a far greater and more devastating tragedy than the ferry sinking should there be any accident, according to the government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Such a sentiment was also seen in recent remarks by Rep. Park Young-sun, floor leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, who said, "Nuclear power plants are now said to be the largest threat to safety in our society after the sinking of the Sewol."

Already, environmental groups are demanding the government decommission a nuclear reactor at Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant, which is currently undergoing review for a possible extension of its lifespan. The initial 30-year lifespan of the reactor located some 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul expired in November 2012.

However, an official from the state-run operator of nuclear power plants, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., claimed the initial lifespan meant little more than a timetable for an inspection.

"It is a globally accepted practice to keep operating a nuclear reactor past its designed lifespan once its safety is confirmed," the official said, adding that 150 nuclear reactors out of 435 throughout the world, whose designed lifespan has expired are currently in operation.

The problem with shutting down the country's aged nuclear reactors comes from the fact that nuclear power plants are the cheapest source of power.

In 2012, nuclear power plants generated 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity at 39.6 won (4 U.S. cents) while it cost 66.3 won to generate the same amount of electricity with coal and 253 won with oil, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

South Korea currently operates 23 nuclear reactors, generating 26 percent of its total power supply.

The government plans to boost the share of nuclear power to 29 percent in 2035, which means it has to build five to seven more nuclear reactors by the target year in addition to 11 others currently under construction or are already planned.

The government apparently fears the growing opposition against the country's aged reactors may prompt opposition against building new reactors.

"The government will make its decisions on the shutdown of aged reactors and building new reactors after carefully reviewing all related factors that will include the public sentiment as well as the outlook on power supplies, safety and efficiency of nuclear power plants," a ministry official said.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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