Scorcher reignites energy debate

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Scorcher reignites energy debate


A conscripted police officer collapses from nausea and dizziness while standing guard at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Tuesday, when the Korea Meteorological Administration issued heat wave warnings across the country. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in insisted on Tuesday that his administration was not backpedaling from its promise to phase out nuclear energy after the state utility provider decided to restart two suspended nuclear power plants to meet growing demand for electricity during an unusually hot summer.

At a cabinet meeting in the Blue House, Moon called on the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy to prepare a detailed electricity management plan in response to criticism that his nuclear phase-out policy had failed.

“With a dramatic hike in energy demand due to sweltering heat, while there are concerns [about meeting the demand], there are also unreasonable claims that distort facts about the operation of nuclear reactors,” he said. “I ask the ministry to present to the people its forecast, plan and measures for energy supply in detail.”

On Sunday, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power decided to restart two nuclear reactors - Hanbit 3 and Hanul 2, which are currently suspended for maintenance - before the second week of August when the utility provider expects power demand to peak.

The nuclear power operator also said it would delay the maintenance of two nuclear reactors - Hanbit 1 and Hanul 1 - which were initially to be shut down on Aug. 18 and Aug. 29.

Another nuclear reactor, Hanul 4, which began operation on Friday after a period maintenance, reached its full capacity on Tuesday.

With the five reactors online, the government anticipates that it will be able to secure an additional 5 million kilowatts of power at any given time.

The Blue House insisted that the delay in maintenance of Hanbit 1 and Hanul 1 did not mean it was changing course on nuclear energy. The policy goal is still reducing the number of nuclear reactors in the country from 24 to 14 by 2038, the Blue House said.

The decision to restart two reactors and delay the maintenance of two others provided fuel for critics of Moon’s energy policy, who believe the president is rushing too quickly into a nuclear phase-out when energy demand remains high, especially during prolonged heat waves.

The government in December last year projected this year’s maximum power demand to be 87.5 million kilowatts. But on Tuesday, the figure reached a peak of 91.7 million kilowatts at 4 p.m., putting the reserve margin - which represents the amount of electricity being generated that is not being used - at 7.69 percent.

The electricity supply is considered stable when the margin is above 10 percent.

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