No time for nuclear phase-outIn a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (Kaeri) in Daejeon, You Young-min, the minister of science and ICT, was absent. Instead, a deputy minister wearing sneakers arrived — and left 25 minutes before the event ended, citing an urgent schedule.
During the 50th anniversary of the institute 10 years ago, the atmosphere was quite different. President Lee Myung-bak sent a congratulatory message to a grand ceremony held at Sheraton Walkerhill Hotel in Seoul, in which Lee Ju-ho, minister of education, science and technology, awarded 40 people with medals of honor, including three presidential awards, on behalf of Prime Minister Han Seung-soo. The number of awards given this year was just one-fourth of those given a decade ago. As if to acknowledge the gap, the deputy minister said the government will have a separate award ceremony on the Day of Atomic Energy, on Dec. 27. After listening to her speech, an attendee complained, “That sounds like an excuse, not congratulations.”
Industry insiders have raised concerns. “Who would enter this industry?” fumed one. After the launch of the Moon Jae-in administration two years ago, high school students no longer want to study nuclear engineering at Kaist. Twenty percent of the freshmen in the department of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University have dropped out this year.
If manpower is unavailable, Korea cannot export nuclear reactors. Who would purchase reactors from us when they need engineers to take care of them for at least 40 years. Applied areas, such as nuclear medicine, will also suffer. Some even lament that we may not have enough engineers to discuss the safety of nuclear plants aggressively being built in China along its east coast.
Those are the shadows left by the Moon administration’s nuclear phase-out. The global trend is different. Bill Gates is investing in developing safer reactors as he believes they are the only realistic answer to soaring energy demand. The New York Times ran an op-ed titled, “Nuclear Power Can Save the World,” by distinguished nuclear scientists in its April 6 edition. Even Japan wants to increase the share of nuclear power to 20 percent to 22 percent by 2030 despite the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
A majority of Koreans want to maintain or expand the share of nuclear power in the nation’s energy policy. Nevertheless, the government blindly pushes for a nuclear phase-out. We urge the government to change course before it’s too late.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 10, Page 30