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Industry minister nominee vows swift restoration of nuclear energy ecosystem

Sept. 13, 2023 - 19:30 By Yonhap
Industry Minister nominee Bang Moon-kyu attends a parliamentary hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul on Sept. 13, 2023. (Yonhap)

South Korean Industry Minister nominee Bang Moon-kyu vowed Wednesday to expedite efforts to restore and further develop the ecosystem of the country's nuclear power generation industry to better achieve net-zero goals and energy security.

During a parliamentary confirmation hearing, Bang also pledged efforts to boost exports amid unfavorable global business circumstances and to strengthen cooperation with the United States, Japan and other partners on stable supply chains in advanced industry sectors.

Bang, who currently leads the Office for Government Policy Coordination, was named the chief of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy last month to replace Lee Chang-yang.

"Nuclear power generation and carbon neutrality are crucial in terms of strengthening our energy security. I will complete the restoration of the nuclear power industry ecosystem and further nurture the sector as a new future energy industry," Bang said in his opening remarks.

The Yoon Suk Yeol government reversed the nuclear phase-out plan of the preceding government and is pushing to raise the country's dependence on nuclear energy.

The government seeks to raise the proportion of nuclear energy sources to 34.6 percent by 2036 from 23.4 percent in 2018, while renewable sources will be responsible for 30.6 percent of power generation in 2036 from 6.2 percent in 2018.

"I will focus on a realistic energy mix to achieve carbon neutrality and ensure stability and efficiency in terms of the energy supply," Bang said. "The government will also strive to secure oil, natural gas, key minerals and other major natural resources in a stable manner."

Asked about the financial difficulties of the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), Bang told lawmakers that high global oil prices and the nuclear phase-out policy were to be blamed for its huge losses and called for a "painstaking effort" in restructuring.

As of end-June, the state-run utility firm suffered losses of 201.4 trillion won ($106.09 billion), the largest amount among all of South Korea's listed companies, as the government was not able to raise the energy rates enough last year amid high inflation and growing public burdens over the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic slowdown.

KEPCO is pushing for a set of reform measures, such as property sales, restructuring overseas businesses and freezing workers' wages.

"Electricity rate hikes are needed to fundamentally resolve the debt issues, but the government will take into account various factors in a comprehensive manner as it heavily affects households," Bang said.

Speaking on the economy, Bang said South Korea is still facing such unfavorable conditions as high inflation, a global economic slowdown and the weak real estate sector in China.

"It is necessary to achieve the growth in exports, a key growth engine ... I will do my best to devise strategies fit for each major market and to help exporters advance into new markets in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asian regions," Bang said.

In an effort to ensure stable supply chains, the nominee vowed to further industry ties with the U.S., Japan and other major nations while striving to diversify supply channels of major industry items and develop homegrown technologies.

"The government will fully extend support in terms of infrastructure, financing and taxation to help companies secure superb capabilities and technologies in advanced industry fields," Bang said.