Close to a blackoutThis summer is heating up. A powerful heat wave the weather authority has forecast has yet to arrive, and yet an electricity crisis is already looming. The summer power reserve ratio must be kept above 10 percent to avoid blackouts. Since the sizzling heat from last week, the power reserve ratio is hovering dangerously at 10 percent. Authorities are struggling to keep the level above 10 percent on a daily basis, but with demand at annual highs, the rate is expected to fall below the threshold sooner or later. We may face blackouts as on Sept. 15, 2011.
An unseasonable heat wave and a sudden surge in power demand at 3:00 p.m. caused power outages around the country a decade ago. Blackouts continued for five hours, affecting 2.12 million households. The incident took place because of inept shutting down of power stations for maintenance. Although usage escalated suddenly, it was within Korea’s power generation capacity. Despite warnings of the late heat wave, authorities unplugged 23 power stations responsible for 11 percent of total capacity.
The situation may be worse this time. Due to the Moon Jae-in administration’s reckless policy of phasing out nuclear reactors, eight out of 24 nuclear reactors are unplugged. The Hanvit 4 reactor has been idle for four years and the Shin Hanul 1 reactor, which was completed in April 2020, only gained conditional approval on July 9. If the past outages were due to Kepco’s miscalculation of demand, a new crisis will stem from the government’s insistence on phasing out of nuclear energy.
In the face of anxieties over power insecurity, the government pointed to a natural increase in demand from economic recovery as a major factor, obviously trying to deflect attention from its nuclear phase-out policy. Industrial power demand has increased this year, but if reactors were running at normal levels, power outages would not be a worry.
The government response to the problem is disturbing. It rushed to activate a coal power station currently undergoing a trial run and advised companies to reduce power use. The act of the government activating coal power stations while fantasizing about carbon neutrality by 2050 is silly. So is ordering companies to watch their power use while trying to stimulate the economy.
The government’s goal of weaning Korea off nuclear energy is causing insecurity. It must reexamine the policy not just to avoid an immediate supply crisis but also for long-term national development.