Nuclear majors at KAIST few and far between following Moon's phase-outFor three years in a row, no student admitted to KAIST in the fall semester chose nuclear power or quantum engineering majors — until last year.
Only five freshmen in 2018 and four freshmen in 2019, who were admitted in the spring semester, chose to major in nuclear power or quantum engineering. In contrast, the number of students majoring in nuclear power or quantum engineering from 2010-16, before the Moon Jae-in administration, came in with an average of 20 each year.
Students majoring in nuclear engineering at KAIST are worried about Moon's nuclear phase-out policy, which marks its fourth year this year. While the number of students majoring in nuclear engineering at the university has decreased to less than half of what it was before the nuclear phase-out policy, even students currently majoring in nuclear engineering are considering switching majors.
"I was attracted to nuclear engineering because Korea's nuclear technology is the world's best," said a junior at the electrical and electronic engineering department of KAIST. “I decided to major in nuclear engineering as Korea won a bid to construct a nuclear power plant in Barakah, United Arab Emirates, proving Korea’s nuclear power plant technology is internationally recognized.
“But I am at a loss after the Moon government decided to wean off nuclear power," the student said. "My friends studying nuclear energy in the department are forced to choose between going abroad or abandoning the major they have been studying for during the past several years, forcing them to shift to non-nuclear fields."
Out of 600 freshmen at KAIST, only six chose to major in nuclear energy or quantum engineering in November 2020.
"If there are fewer than five students per semester, it will be difficult to open a course," said a student majoring in nuclear energy at KAIST. "Many students majoring in nuclear energy worry that they will not be able to study properly."
Another junior, majoring in nuclear energy, said "The government's hasty and non-alternative nuclear power phase-out policy threw students into confusion. I chose the department because I was interested in nuclear power, but I am worried now that I might have to learn something unrelated to nuclear power.
"There were some friends who were interested in nuclear power at the time of admission but did not choose to major in it because of the government's nuclear phase-out policy," the student added.
"Before the nuclear phase-out policy, I was just worried about how I could be more competitive — I didn't think the industry itself would shake,” said Cho Jae-wan, 31, president of the Green Nuclear Students' Union and holder of a Ph.D. in nuclear and quantum engineering at KAIST.
"It's not easy to try to build more nuclear power plants because many students have given up the major."
"The number of people choosing nuclear majors can’t help but decline because of international and domestic policies,” said KAIST Professor Chung Yong-hoon of the department of nuclear and quantum engineering.
"If the number of nuclear majors decreases rapidly, there will be problems with the safety management of existing nuclear power plants in Korea,” he added.
The denuclearization policy is also affecting Korea Nuclear Meister High School, located in Uljin, North Gyeongsang — the only high school in the country to train nuclear engineers.
They have failed to fill this year's freshmen quota of 80 students. Even after extending the recruitment period, only 79 new students will enter this year.
BY KIM BANG-HYUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]