Citizens’ cooperation is key

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Citizens’ cooperation is key

Power authorities are on thin ice in the scorching heat wave. The state-run power company issued warnings about potential supply shortages after reserves fell below 3 million kilowatts for the first time since the blackout last September. Desperate measures to keep power flowing have led authorities to reactivate the aged Gori 1 nuclear reactor to bolster supply. More than 10 neighborhoods in Seoul suffered blackouts on Sunday night due to electricity overload as homes kept air-conditioners and fans running after dark.

As the mercury won’t likely go down until the weekend, the battle against power shortages is likely to drag on throughout the week. For now, there is little to do but to plead for public support in using less electricity. Concerted civilian efforts do make a difference. During the June 21 drill to prepare against electricity outages, power consumption fell by 5 million kilowatts during the test due to public participation. Even small changes in our habits can reduce demand by 1 million kilowatts, according to an official at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.

Japan is the exemplary case of civilian conservation as it battles with a power crisis. Japan feared dire shortages with just two nuclear reactors running after last year’s earthquake and the ensued tsunami. Experts predicted electricity would be short by an average of 15 percent in each region, but July data showed that electricity consumption fell by 20 percent from 2010, a year before the earthquake. The Japanese have voluntarily picked up the habit of keeping lights and air-conditioners off and using energy-conserving home appliances.

Large apartment complexes across Korea this month have been pleading for residents to turn off air-conditioners. But many still ignore the warning. Civilian and consumer groups have been leading the public campaign to save energy, but community and neighborhood groups should initiate concerted community plans to save energy together.

Power shortages are no longer a temporary problem for the country. The risk will linger on until a new thermoelectric power plant opens in the latter half of next year. Authorities must draw up short-term and long-term plans to deal with the issue and tend to details such as replacing old transformers. But even with government efforts, Korea’s per-capita energy consumption is the highest among OECD countries. So, civilian involvement is crucial, too.
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