Moon vows to wean Korea off nuclear power

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Moon vows to wean Korea off nuclear power


President Moon jae-in, center, flanked by children, prepares to press a button to shut down the Kori-1 reactor permanently in Gijang County, Busan, on Monday. [YONHAP]

Korea will scrap all plans to build new nuclear power plants, President Moon Jae-in said Monday, vowing to reshape an energy policy centered on atomic power.

“Securing the safety of nuclear plants will be treated as a national security issue that will decide the country’s destiny,” Moon said in a ceremony marking the permanent shutdown of the country’s oldest nuclear reactor, the Kori-1, in Gijang, Busan.

“The nuclear-centered energy policy will be abolished and Korea will move toward a nuclear-free era,” he said. “All construction plans for new plants under preparation will be scrapped. The lifespans of existing plants will not be extended.”

The Kori-1 began commercial operation in 1978. The plant was originally designed to run for 30 years, but the government decided in December 2007 to extend its operation for another decade. Decommissioning the plant was decided in 2015 and Moon, who promoted a nuclear-free energy future for Korea during his campaign, attended the ceremony to commemorate the event.

Instead of nuclear energy, the government will actively invest and support renewable energy like solar power and offshore wind power, and power generation using liquefied natural gas.

As a part of a nuclear-energy-free roadmap, the Wolseong-1 reactor, which is still in operation after an extension of its lifespan, will be shut down as soon as possible, Moon said, taking into account the power supply situation. He compared running nuclear reactors beyond their originally planned lifespans to the Sewol ferry disaster. The ferry, operated after an extension of its lifespan, sank in 2014, killing more than 300 passengers.

The design lifespan of Wolseong-1 in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, expired in 2012, but the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission decided in 2015 to extend its operation for a decade. Residents near the plant challenged the decision and the Seoul Central District Court ruled in favor of them. The commission and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power immediately appealed.

Moon also hinted at halting ongoing construction of two nuclear reactors. “We will obtain a social consensus as soon as possible, taking into account the safety, construction progress rate, costs and spending as well as reserve power rate,” Moon said.

Reminding the public that it was his campaign pledge to make a safe Korea, Moon said he, as president, will directly manage the nuclear energy policy. “The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission will be promoted to a presidential commission,” Moon said, “to heighten its authority and improve diversity, representativeness and independence.”

The president also promised to reduce coal power stations. “We will stop any new construction of coal power plants,” Moon said. “I will shut down 10 aged coal plants during my presidency.”

Stressing that Korea is not safe from a major earthquake, Moon said the country would face calamity if a nuclear accident took place, however low the likelihood of one is.

“While Western advanced countries are rapidly ending nuclear power generation, we are increasing it, and Korea has become the country with the most concentrated nuclear power plants,” he said.

The president said the business community’s concerns about power shortages, energy bill hikes and the expense of shutting down reactors cannot deter his nuclear-free energy policy. He said the time has come for Korea to value the people’s safety over cost efficiencies.

He also said the government will build a new research institute in the southeastern region to work on technologies required to dismantle nuclear reactors.

The nuclear-free energy initiative also is part of Moon’s plan to support new energy industries and create jobs. During his first presidential campaign in 2012, Moon made a pledge to build a renewable energy industry complex in the Jeolla region to create 500,000 new jobs.

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