Moon’s nuclear turnaround

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Moon’s nuclear turnaround

During a meeting Friday at the Blue House, President Moon Jae-in said that nuclear reactors must be utilized as a primary energy source while they are active over the next 60 years. He ordered acceleration in the stalled construction of the Shin Hanul No. 1 and No. 2 reactors and the Shin Gori No. 5 and No. 6 units so that “they can be fully activated as soon as possible.”

The comment contrasts with his stubborn adherence to phase out nuclear reactors to go entirely nuclear free. His thought is unchanged. “The transition in energy mix is inevitable,” said Moon emphasizing the incremental shift in energy sourcing should be carried out over the long term until 2084. He kept to the roadmap he announced in October 2017 to wean the country off nuclear reactors. But still his tone has changed from the hard-line comment in June 2017 when he announced the permanent retirement of the oldest reactor Gori No. 1. He said nuclear reactors were not “safe, cheap, or environmentally friendly” to vow nuclear-free drive.

He may have realized the merits of nuclear reactors after a global energy crisis exacerbated by the Ukraine war. He also could be aiming to attract conservative votes who had been critical of his nuclear phase-out policy. The opposition party called him “contradictory” of a policy of last five years.

His argument is also contradictory. Under the phase-out roadmap, Korea won’t be endorsing new construction and extension of the life of reactors when their original life span ends. Starting with Gori No. 2 reactor that will retire in April next year, a total of 11 reactors will be turned off by 2034. The number of reactors that totaled 24 in 2017 will decline to 18 in 2030 and nine in 2050. How can nuclear reactors serve as a “primary” source when the facilities are going defunct?

According to the government’s carbon neutrality roadmap, the share of reactors in power sourcing will fall to 6.1 percent in 2050 (when coal powered plants go extinct) from 29 percent in 2020. Again, how can reactors become a primary source for 60 years when their share falls to 6 percent within 30 years?

It is not easy to activate reactors under testing or construction. Shin Hanul Unit 1 which was to be fully activated in March only began testing in July last year due to questions about becoming a North Korean target. Quickening the construction of Shin Gori No. 5 and No. 6 which can be completed after two to three years also is impossible. The president’s comments therefore could be aiming to buy votes.

Moon has not mentioned whether to approve the suspended construction of Shin Hanul No. 3 and No. 4 units, which the ruling party candidate vowed to reconsider upon a public consensus. Whoever wins, the new president must revisit the government’s nuclear phase-out policy.
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