Restore the defunct industry

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Restore the defunct industry

President Yoon Suk-yeol affirmed his commitment to undo the policy of weaning off nuclear power and pledged to redeem the country’s supremacy in nuclear reactors.

He paid a visit to the reactor manufacturing site of Doosan Enerbility in Changwon, South Gyeonsang, on Wednesday. During a meeting with representatives of 20 reactor suppliers, he called the signature nuclear phase-out policy of the former Moon Jae-in administration “foolish” when Korea’s reactor technology and safety had been recognized as one of the best in the world. The government will expedite support to renew the suspended construction of the Shin Hanul 3 and 4 units. The Yoon administration plans to invest 3.7 trillion won ($2.8 billion) through 2025 to rebuild the reactor industry habitat.

Commanding supremacy in nuclear reactors has become crucial for energy security. Reactors are rated Korea’s top technology together with semiconductors. It is core infrastructure for energy.

Despite the strategic value and opposition from more than 70 percent of the people, the liberal Moon administration pressed ahead with a phase-out on nuclear reactors. It plugged off the Gori 1 and Wolseong 1 plants ahead of their retirement age. The government stopped the Hanvit 4 unit and canceled new projects for construction of nuclear power plants. The industry came to a stop, and it takes more than 10 years to complete the construction of a reactor.

Youngjin Tech had been a part of the project to develop Korean-style reactors and is nearly at a default crisis. Machines are dusty and rusted. Half of its employees have left. If reactor construction does not normalize soon, the company will go under, according to the CEO.

Major reactor companies are no better. Doosan Heavy Industries, the prime maker of reactor equipment, changed its name to Doosan Enerbility for new identity in renewables. But its solar panel business had no chance against cheap Chinese products. China and Russia have made fast inroads in overseas global markets while Korea received zero orders for reactors over the past five years. The industry has lost 3,000 skilled engineers as a result.

Energy is being increasingly weaponized. International oil prices have become five times costlier from the pre-pandemic levels in the wake of the Ukraine war. Korea’s trade deficit is snowballing due to energy imports. Kepco faces an annual loss of 30 trillion won.

The previous administration’s reckless phase-out of nuclear reactors had caused havoc. France and Britain with strong renewables policies are expanding their reactors. Germany is in a serious energy crisis due to the suspension of Russian gas pipe project. Korea must revitalize the defunct nuclear reactor industry for energy security.
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