[EDITORIALS]Questioning the energy plan

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[EDITORIALS]Questioning the energy plan

The government’s proposal to send 2 million kilowatts of electricity to North Korea in return for Pyongyang’s agreement to dismantle its nuclear arms programs has prompted a series of questions, because the plan appears unrealistic.
The first issue is cost. Seoul said it would cover the expenses with 2.5 trillion won ($2.5 billion) left over from the suspended North Korean light-water nuclear reactor project. But far more than that will be needed. For the promised amount of electricity to be sent north, it is inevitable that thermal plants will have to be built. Building just one heavy oil thermal plant costs 2 trillion won. Laying transmission lines between Yangju and Pyongyang will likely cost another 500 billion won, and transformers another trillion won. Seoul is at least a trillion won short of what it needs. Actually transmitting the power will cost another trillion won per year.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, the South will have the capacity to provide 2 million kilowatts after 2008, taking into account the completion of the fifth nuclear power plant in Uljin. But that is only an estimate. The fifth nuclear reactor is still in the design stage, and its completion is scheduled for 2017. It remains questionable whether the South will have enough electricity to spare in 2008.
The government must answer those questions as it tries to win a national consensus on the energy plan. If the North actually gives up its nuclear arms programs, the South must take up the burden at all costs. North Korea’s resulting dependence on the South for power may also be a positive thing. But it is still unclear whether Pyongyang will agree to give up its nuclear programs. And the project will require enormous tax revenue.
The government should be careful about painting too optimistic a picture. It must provide convincing explanations for how it will come up with the funds, and say how much of the burden the people should shoulder. The light-water reactor project was paid for by South Korea and Japan, with the North expected to eventually repay the debt. But this new offer is Seoul’s responsibility alone. This means taxes. The project must be shaped into a national agenda that will outlast this administration. To this end, a public consensus is vital, and therefore the government should seek National Assembly approval.

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