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Nuclear energy essential for Korea‘s decarbonization goal: FKI

July 6, 2021 - 16:01 By Kim Byung-wook

South Korea needs nuclear energy to achieve its decarbonization goal and go in tandem with the global low-carbon drive, as the country has conditions unfavorable to rely mainly on renewables, the Federation of Korean Industries said Tuesday.

In a statement, the nation’s major business lobbying group cited the World Economic Forum’s energy transition index -- which benchmarks 115 economies on the current performance of their energy systems across various aspects -- to highlight Korea’s slow pace of decarbonization.

Korea scored 60.8, ranking 29th among 31 advanced countries, whose average score was 68.4. Korea took 45th place of all 115 nations, who scored 59.4 in average.

“Due to mountainous terrain and high population density, Korea lacks large chunks of land to roll out renewables. As the amount of electricity generated by renewables hinges on weather conditions, cross-country electricity trade is essential for the stable power supply, which isn’t the case for Korea,” an FKI official said.

The reason why Korea ranked third from last among advanced nations was evident from the statistics. According to the WEF, Korea generated 40.8 percent of its electricity with coal, 27.8 percentage points higher than advanced nations’ average of 13 percent. The ratio of renewables was 5.5 percent, 32.7 percentage points lower than advanced nation’s 38.2 percent. Also, Korea’s carbon emissions per capita was 11.7 tons, 3.9 tons more than advanced nation’s average of 7.8 tons.

The FKI further explained that Korea lacks physical space to accomplish its 2050 decarbonization goal, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by then from 710 million tons in 2017. To do so, Korea will have to expand the capacity of renewables to 212 gigawatts and generate at least 50 percent of electricity with renewables, but Korea’s maximum space available for renewables is 155 gigawatts.

The FKI suggested nuclear power as a realistic solution to depend less on coal, as the ratio of electricity generated by coal shrank just 2.6 percentage points in 10 years from 43.4 percent in 2010 to 40.8 percent in 2019 despite aggressive investments into renewables in recent years.

“Nuclear power emits almost zero carbon in a similar level with wind power and offers high generation efficiency per unit area, making the power source ideal for Korea, which has little spare land,” the FKI official said.