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State commission’s decision as milestone in long-term energy plans

State commission’s decision as milestone in long-term energy plans

Posted October. 21, 2017 07:46,   

Updated October. 21, 2017 08:05


On Friday, a state commission recommended the government resume the stalled construction of Shin-Kori No. 5 and No. 6 reactors. The decision is based on a survey of 471 civilians selected as jury, in which 59.5 percent of the jury supported the resumption of the project while 40.5 percent backed the government's policy to abandon the reactors. Soon after the commission's announcement, presidential spokesperson Park Soo-hyun said that the government would respect the commission’s policy recommendation. Therefore, the government is expected to endorse the decision on Tuesday at a Cabinet meeting to be presided over by President Moon Jae-in.

Contrary to the results of previous public polls, those backing the resumption have far outnumbered those opposing it in the Friday vote. This reflects people’s concern over potentially massive ramifications that the government’s rapid exit from nuclear energy could bring about. The civilian jury carefully examined safety of nuclear reactor technology, economic viability and losses expected when the project is halted. “Increasing number of respondents in all age groups has supported the resumption in the multiple surveys,” State commission Chairman Kim Ji-hyung said.

The state commission has efficiently addressed and eased intense social conflict to reach a decision through public debate and a vote, which deserves acknowledgment. President Moon Jae-in could be relieved from the burden breaking his own pledges to overhaul the country’s energy policy, but he still has to thoroughly mull over whether the nation’s critical decision can be made by civilians who lack expertise and representation and it really complies with representative democracy. For nearly four months of heated discussion, as much as 100 billion won (8.8 billion U.S. dollars) in social costs has been wasted, which is the reason that the government shouldn’t bring controversial issues to public debate too often.

Nevertheless, it is fortunate that the Friday’s vote has prevented 1.6 trillion won (141 billion dollars) from spending to halt the construction plan, and the Korean nuclear industry can survive and export more nuclear reactors. Given that the government still says that the decision is one thing and its policy to shift energy sources is quite the other, the Shin Hanul No. 3 and No. 4 reactors and Cheonji No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, which came to a halt in the phases of plant design and site purchase, will unlikely resume their construction. Along with President Moon’s suspension order in late June, reactor construction plans in Samcheok and Yeongwol in Gangwon Province were also cancelled.

Considering the realty facing South Korea that heavily depends on foreign sources for its energy needs, diversification of energy sources is indispensable in securing a balanced mix of nuclear, coal, liquefied natural gas and renewable energy. Against this backdrop, conversion of energy sources should be implemented systematically and gradually by taking into account the nation’s economic growth rate, outlook for energy supply and demand, response to climate change, competitiveness in nuclear reactor export, and prospect for renewable energy development. If the South Korean government wants to reduce the portion of nuclear energy, it needs to first close aged nuclear reactors, rather than discarding construction plans of new nuclear plants that have huge impact on the national economy and job market. To change national energy paradigm, a 100-year roadmap to the future is the first and foremost thing the government needs to work on. The Moon Jae-in administration will now humbly accept the public’s judgment that has put the brakes on the state’s ill-advised, reckless policy to switch energy sources.