South Korea pours cold water on nuclear fuel
South Korea yesterday moved towards a retreat from plans to increase reliance on nuclear energy, amid growing public opposition to atomic power after the Fukushima disaster and a domestic scandal over faked safety documents.
Nuclear energy should account for 22 to 29 per cent of power generation capacity by 2035, compared with a goal of 41 per cent introduced in the previous long-term plan in 2008, South Korea’s energy ministry said yesterday, citing the findings of its policy panel, a 60-member group of representatives from industry, academic institutions and civic bodies.
Agreement on a range of 22 to 29 per cent was reached “based upon consensus to minimise social conflict over the proportion of nuclear power generation”, the study group said in a statement released by the energy ministry.
Reducing the proportion of energy coming from nuclear power would force South Korea, which imports almost all of its energy, to increase use of other fuel sources to cope with surging demand. Yesterday’s proposal illustrates the extent to which public opinion has shifted from a technology that has been a mainstay of the nation’s energy policy since the first reactor was built in Kori, south-east of Seoul, in 1978.
The head of the study group, Kim Chang-seob, said the figures provided were intended strictly as guidelines to take account of trends and growing discontent over the nuclear sector.
“The implementation of energy policy doesn’t just involve the government now, it’s become an increasingly important and extremely sensitive issue for each and every citizen,” Mr Kim said at a briefing. “Our suggestion is to set the direction in the policy for social consent, as there are huge social conflicts.”
The government is to hold public hearings over the report’s conclusions and plans to draw up final revisions to energy policy in December. The country’s long-term energy panel will require cabinet approval.
Nuclear energy accounted for 26.4 per cent of South Korea’s power generation capacity as of the end of 2012, according to the energy ministry.
Public discontent over nuclear energy has been fanned by a scandal over the use of fake certificates which, since last year, has prompted a series of reactor shutdowns in South Korea.
The nuclear industry has been criticised for breeding a culture of secrecy that led to corrupt practices among officials involved in safety certification.
Six of 23 reactors remain offline, including three halted in May to replace cables supplied using bogus certificates. Authorities last week said 100 people, including a top former state utility official, had been indicted on corruption charges.
Surveys show nuclear power is becoming increasingly unpopular in South Korea. Sixty-three per cent of respondents to a March survey by Hangil Research said they considered domestic reactors unsafe. That compared with 54 per cent in a poll a year ago by the non-profit Korean Federation for Environmental Movement.
Growing support for South Korea’s anti-nuclear lobby has deepened the dilemma facing the government of Park Geun Hye, with power demand expected to rise almost 60 per cent by 2027. In July, Ms Park called for tighter government regulation and monitoring of the nuclear industry.
The working group’s plan maintains the government’s target for renewable energy at 11 per cent of supply. The contribution of coal and natural gas would be decided later, depending on a plan for greenhouse gas emissions.
The working group also proposed taxing soft coal to curb demand, while reducing duties on liquefied natural gas and heating oil.
* Bloomberg News and Reuters
Updated: October 13, 2013 04:00 AM