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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on April 15)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:04 April 15, 2022

Consider all factors
: Yoon should carefully consider all variables before overhauling Moon's failed energy policy

The incoming administration led by President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is set to recast the country's controversial carbon neutrality and nuclear phase-out plans of the Moon Jae-in administration. This is a welcome development, as it is never too late to fix a glaring problem.

The presidential transition team claimed Wednesday overhauling the two interlinked policies, whose side effects are claimed to outweigh potential benefits, is inevitable.
Won Hee-ryong, the transition team's planning chief, said the Yoon government will take a new approach to achieve carbon neutrality without changing the original target. Last year, Korea announced it would slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from the 2018 levels by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

To pull off the lofty goal, the Moon administration focused on encouraging the use of more eco-friendly renewable energy and phasing out nuclear power plants. Unfortunately, Moon's policy turned out to be unrealistic, if not downright naive.

The Moon Jae-in administration has long been under fire for its controversial plan to phase out the country's nuclear power plants in the name of shifting toward carbon neutrality.
Experts warned his nuclear phase-out policy would seriously undercut the foundation of the country's once world-leading nuclear industry and the new renewable-centered energy mix would not work due to poor infrastructure and lack of preparations. Defying such criticism, the government stripped nuclear power of its green classification late last year.
Ironically, President Moon often promoted the technical expertise behind Korean nuclear power plants as an export item when he made overseas trips, even as he was leading efforts to close them.

To everyone's surprise, Moon made a sudden about-face shortly before the presidential election last month. He said Korea should utilize nuclear energy as a main source of power, suggesting he might have belatedly realized his policy is untenable, after all.

Moon's policy aims to jack up the portion of renewables in the total energy mix to 70 percent by 2050. Currently, the figure of renewables is below 5 percent. The government poured a total of 7.3 trillion won ($5.9 billion) of public funds to help boost the renewable energy industry from 2017 to 2020. But some major local companies withdrew from the solar energy market due to poor profitability due to strong competition from Chinese solar parts makers.

To make matters worse, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has sent global energy prices soaring, which in turn makes it hard to abandon fossil fuels in favor of more expensive renewable energy. The transition team said actual greenhouse gas emissions went up by 4.16 percent in 2021 over the previous year, as power stations were forced to use more coal and liquefied natural gas.

Under the current carbon neutrality scheme, the country is forecast to see a 4 to 6 percent hike in electricity rate in the following decades, as Korea Electric Power Corp. (Kepco), a state-run power firm, has to pay more to secure electricity since it cannot rely on nuclear energy.
Citing inflation concerns, however, the Moon administration recently rejected a rate hike request from Kepco, passing the burden of an unpopular price increase to the incoming administration.

For Yoon, the choice between a rate hike to shore up Kepco's balance sheet and a freeze to tame inflation will be no easy task. Nor will it be frictionless to reconfigure Moon's energy policy. For instance, finding new disposal sites for radioactive waste is a thorny issue in reversing the nuclear phase-out plan.

The presidential transition team should come up with a realistic road map for his energy policy, and Yoon is urged to carefully consider all variables to map out a sustainable alternative.

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