Kyungjun Yun
December 2015
Energy & Environment;Dec2015, Vol. 26 Issue 8, p1335
Academic Journal
Since the 1970s, Korea, the world's 5th largest producer of nuclear electricity, has consistently made efforts to expand its nuclear power capacities to meet the nation's electricity demands. This study critically examines four premises underlying Korea's nuclear energy policy, and argues that these premises are not sufficiently concrete to guide Korea's national energy policy. First, the hidden and social costs of nuclear energy, combined with the rapid growth and development of renewable energy technologies, will undermine the economic competitiveness of nuclear energy in the near future; at that point, nuclear reactors, especially recently constructed ones, could become dangerous and expensive legacies of an obsolete technology. Second, the possibility that nuclear energy can mitigate climate change has been exaggerated. The maintenance of over 430 nuclear plants to offset 4% of contribution of world greenhouse gases (GHGs) is disputable, considering the availability of more promising and safer alternatives for addressing climate change issues. Third, electricity consumption per capita in Korea is excessive and inefficient as compared with consumption levels in most major economies, a phenomenon which is closely related to the electricity price in Korea, which is one of the cheapest in the world. Planning for nuclear expansion without consideration of this demand-side problem, which includes the price point, is hardly helpful for responding to energy security or climate change issues. Lastly, considering that the global contribution of nuclear energy to electricity production is decreasing, and that nuclear energy may be edged out by renewables in the long term, a nuclear renaissance may never materialize. Korea will not be able to export 80 reactors by the year 2030, even though a few countries will be constructing nuclear reactors for some time to come. Naturally, the nuclear industry is not sufficiently promising for Korea to adopt to fuel economic growth. The message raised by all of the above points is clear: new reactor construction is not desirable in Korea, and the older reactors already in operation need to be gradually decommissioned and replaced with more promising alternatives, including demand-side controls (e.g., energy price adjustments and energy conservation), alternative fuel mix, and the expansion of renewable energy use.


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