Nuclear options

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Nuclear options

The government’s nuclear phase-out policy, which began by gauging public opinion to decide the fate of two reactors under construction, has raised procedural questions. The rivaling parties clashed over the government’s unusually frequent orders to manufacturers, asking them to reduce power consumption in recent months. Kim Moo-sung of the People’s Party said this was an attempt to hide an energy shortage so as not to undermine the policy. Choo Mi-ae, head of the ruling Democratic Party, claimed it was a routine energy-saving move during the summer peak season.

Since 2011, the government has been subsidizing companies that comply with state orders to lower power consumption. While ensuring sufficient reserves to power the nation during an unusually hot summer, the government issued orders to manufacturers three times in July and August. The move is suspected of trying to keep up reserves to back up the data that the country is perfectly capable of getting by without extra reactors.

In the energy supply outline for 2017 to 2031, the government has lowered the reserve rate target to 19 percent from the current 22 percent, again to support the rationale behind stopping the further construction of reactors. Germany and Spain keep their reserve rates over 100 percent because renewable sources are often unreliable.

The Ministry of Science and ICT is directing research and development in nuclear power for dismantlement and safety, another move experts suspect as serving the government’s nuclear phase-out policy. That could kill research projects on the fourth-generation neutron reactor with sodium-cooled technology and pyroprocessing, a technology to reprocess spent nuclear fuel that is underway at a cost of 450 billion won ($394 million).

The government is forcibly hurrying its nuclear phase-out plan along when it has not even begun exploring public opinion. Moreover, it must not be hasty to jeopardize nuclear reactor technology built over the last half a century. The government is going in the opposite direction of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s forecast that the number of reactors will more than double by 2050. It must be extra careful and patient when dealing with such a volatile issue.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 10, Page 30

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