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[Editorial] Turnabout at end of term

To people’s surprise, Moon instructs sufficient utilization of nuclear power

March 1, 2022 - 05:30 By Korea Herald
President Moon Jae-in said in a meeting on global energy supply issues on Friday that South Korea should utilize nuclear energy sufficiently for the next 60 years as its main source of power supply.

Referring to four nuclear power plants whose construction has been delayed -- Shin Hanul 1 and 2 and Shin Kori 5 and 6 -- he said that the government must work hard to start their normal operation as quickly as possible.

His remarks are baffling. It is questionable if Moon is trying to deflect criticisms of his failed policy as the presidential election approaches. Or he may have belatedly recognized the advantages to nuclear energy such as a stable power supply at low cost, with energy supply concerns mounting over the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Moon has stubbornly pushed a nuclear phase-out policy ever since he took office. He has ignored experts’ advice and public concerns all along. He turned a deaf ear even to ruling party leadership that advised him to control the speed of implementing the policy.

In a ceremony to mark the permanent suspension of the Kori 1 nuclear reactor about a month after he was inaugurated as president, Moon said nuclear energy was neither safe nor cheap nor environment friendly. And he vowed to scrap an existing policy centered on nuclear energy and instead wean the nation off nuclear power.

After this, the Moon administration annulled plans to construct six new nuclear power plants and halted the life extension of 14 existing reactors, including Kori 1. It is even suspected of shutting down the Wolsong 1 reactor early by manipulating its economic evaluation data illegally.

In October 2021, just four months ago, the Moon government finalized its carbon neutrality plan which will sharply reduce the nation’s nuclear portion in its energy mix from 29 percent in 2020 to 6.1 percent by 2050.

Late last year, when it unveiled its green taxonomy, it excluded nuclear power from its list of environment-friendly energies.

Shin Hanul 1 and 2 were originally scheduled to start commercial operation in April 2017 and April 2018, respectively, but the official launch dates were postponed by 59 months to March this year and March next year, respectively.

The trial operation of Shin Hanul 1 began in July last year, as long as 15 months after its construction was completed. In an apparent bid to delay the trial run, authorities raised unconvincing safety issues such as possible North Korean artillery attacks and an airplane crash.

Shin Kori 5 and 6 were under construction with the goal of starting commercial operations in October last year and October this year, respectively. But the government suspended the construction and held public debates on whether to resume it. The construction resumed according to the conclusion of the debates, but it was still delayed.

Moon’s obstinate bid to close all nuclear plants in South Korea has pushed its world-leading nuclear industry to the brink of collapse. It is questionable whether the industry can be revived even if the next government scraps the nuclear phase-out policy.

There is no use in instructing now an early operation of Shin Kori 5 and 6, whose construction is set to be completed in a few years. If he wanted to see nuclear power utilized sufficiently, he should have ordered the resumption of the construction of Shin Hanul 3 and 4. It is an evasion of responsibility to simply go back on his word without acknowledgement, after the nuclear power industry was already so damaged by his policies.

His presidency is near its end. His policy reversal at this belated time is meaningless. The job of normalizing the nation’s energy policy now rests with the next president, no matter who wins the election.