[Letters] Should Korea rethink nuclear energy?

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[Letters] Should Korea rethink nuclear energy?

A recent revelation that Korea’s nuclear reactors broke down 89 times over the past 10 years due to malfunctions warrants a reflection over the country’s ambitious pursuit for nuclear energy. Korea, always dubbed as an economic model for developing nations, is also the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power producer and the second-largest in Asia after Japan. It operates 21 nuclear reactors, which provide about 40 percent of the national power supply.

Though the deliberations on nuclear reactors and subsequent radiation checks around Seoul have been provoked by Japan’s devastating nuclear plant accident in Fukushima, the situation perhaps opens a bigger debate about whether nuclear energy is worth pursuing altogether.

Apart from high cost and risks generated by malfunctioning and radiation leaks, South Korea faces another threat in the form of a possible terrorist attack or if North Korea attempts sabotage on the South’s nuclear facilities. For the latter, I say God forbid!

But what lessons has Korea learned from Japan? Unfortunately, opinions from media outlets around the globe have been quite disappointing. Many proponents of nuclear energy hysterically suggest that the world should now build and operate modern nuclear reactors that use the latest and safest technology. A begging question is whether the Japanese, while constructing the Fukushima reactors four decades ago, did not consider safety or used modern technology at their disposal. And by the way, to what extend can a natural calamity respect the “safest” technology?

Predictably, some critics have quickly turned their eyes to the emerging economies, China and India in particular. Though their concerns appear genuine, I submit to them that responses so far from these very nations have been an echoing disillusionment to pro-alternative energy enthusiasts. Both Chinese and Indian governments affirm that Japan’s catastrophe offers imperative lessons. Nevertheless, none of them seem ready to reconsider the ambitious development of nuclear plants in the long ran.

One Indian atomic scientist was recently quoted warning that nuclear safety in India had been compromised. India has plans to buy 21 foreign nuclear power reactors, but according to former the AERB Chief, Indian engineers still can’t grasp new and unfamiliar technologies - a dangerous situation should an accident occur.

While a number of countries rely on nuclear energy, last week’s earthquake is a wake-up call to undertake alternative renewable energy. Developing countries and newcomer nuclear countries perhaps have the best opportunity to invest in green energy for a number of reasons: First, owing to the realities of climate change, governments need to radically reduce dependence on fossil fuels and rethink nuclear power ambitions. Secondly, one of the greatest unacknowledged threats to the global economy is the looming peak of global oil production. And thirdly, natural calamities are not 100 percent predictable and their destructive capacity can’t be controlled.

Renewable energy, especially solar and wind power, is tremendously scalable. Multiple generators can be installed across a wide geographic area. The recent improvement of floating wind turbines means that the geographic area does not necessarily have to be on solid ground.

Whether environmental activists take to the streets or not, Korea, and indeed the G-20 nations, have the capacity and responsibility to shift from nuclear energy to green or renewable energy and consequently lead the rest of the world in an energy revolution.

Benson Kamary, a Kenyan graduate student at Kosin University
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