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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 3)

Economy 07:05 June 03, 2021

High cost of policy blunders
Time to reconsider nuclear reactor phase-out

The Moon Jae-in administration has decided to use a state fund to compensate for losses arising from the shutdown or operational suspensions of nuclear reactors. The Cabinet passed a revision to existing utility regulations, Tuesday, paving the way to have taxpayers offset the damage caused by President Moon's nuclear phase-out policy.

For starters, the government will offer an enormous amount of assistance to Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) to pay for the costs to demolish or bury nuclear reactor cores and related ancillary equipment. The financial support will come from the state Electric Power Industry Basis Fund, which is raised by setting aside 3.7 percent of electricity charges collected from users to finance the utility industry. This means the government is passing on the burden stemming from its reckless push for a nuclear phase-out to households and businesses.

Deplorably, the misguided and ill-timed nuclear policy has brought about snowballing losses. The government closed the Wolsong No. 1 reactor, to implement President Moon's campaign pledge to push for the nuclear phase-out. It also scrapped a plan to build four nuclear reactors in Samcheok, Gangwon Province, and Youngdeok, North Gyeongsang Province; while the construction of the Sinhanul Nos. 3 and 4 reactors was also suspended.

According to the office of Rep. Han Moo-kyung of the main opposition People Power Party, the losses from the nuclear phase-out policy are estimated to reach at least 1.4 trillion won ($1.3 billion), including 565.2 billion won for the Wolsong No. 1 reactor. The amount of damage will likely increase when including that inflicted on private companies, research institutes and the Korea Electric Power Corp.

Due to the government's drive for a nuclear phase-out and carbon emissions reduction, power generation from nuclear reactors and coal-powered plants decreased by 4.6 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively, in March from a year earlier. On the other hand, power generation from liquefied natural gas rose 16.3 percent, raising the cost of electricity. The steady hike seen recently in crude oil prices is likely to put more pressure on the costs for electricity production.

It is time for the Moon government to reconsider its nuclear phase-out policy and gradually increase the proportion of nuclear power generation. It could be the optimum choice to minimize the damage to the nation's energy sector, while meeting the country's carbon neutrality goal.

During his May 21 summit with U.S. President Joe Biden, Moon pledged to cooperate in building nuclear reactors in other countries. Given this, he needs to acknowledge his nuclear policy failure. Moon must candidly apologize for the policy mistake and draw up a new energy policy that is viable for both the national economy and the environment.

Rep. Song Young-gil, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, stressed during his May 24 meeting with President Moon the need to develop small modular reactors as the nation's new energy resources. We urge Moon to accept Song's recommendation. It seems to be impossible for the country to meet its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 without scrapping the ill-conceived nuclear energy policy.


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