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Reasons to say goodbye to nuclear power plants

Posted November. 23, 2013 08:45,   


The government is seeking a measure to increase the portion of nuclear energy relative to its overall power needs from the current 26.3 percent to 29 percent in 2035. It requires construction of as many as 18 new nuclear power plants. Amid mounting public concern over safety in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, and corruption scandals surrounding nuclear power plants in Korea, the Korean government vowed to freeze the number of nuclear power plants at the current level, but it is stealthily moving to increase the number. To make a long story short, Korea is advised to gradually reduce the number of nuclear plants.

Nuclear energy is something that humanity cannot control as it pleases. This was demonstrated by the fact that Japan, which would enjoy global reputation as a country of safety and hygiene, is struggling and at loss in the wake of the nuclear power plant disaster and radioactive leaks. They say that there is little risk of earthquake in Korea and that the nuclear power plants there are more advanced in terms of designs and thus are safer. But a state-run environmental research institute recently predicted that Yeonggwang County in South Jeolla Province, which is home to a nuclear power plant complex, will be submerged due to global warming in 2100. The half-life of radioactive materials generated from nuclear power plants range from 30 years (Cesium 137) to 24,000 years (plutonium 239). It takes hundreds of thousands of years for such materials to be reduced one 1,000th in radioactivity. No place on earth will remain immune from climate change for that long period of time.

A nuclear power plant should be shut down for good after 40 to 50 years of operation. Is it logical for us to leave radioactive mass that could last for hundreds of thousands of years on our future generations in order for us to live a convenient life for “just” 50 years? Do we say them that “Since we have buried it underground, you future generations should properly handle it when and if new treatment technology is developed”? If seismic shifts occur and thus radioactive materials are leaked in the period, how will Korea cope with such a situation? Korea already had intense “war-like conflict” in its effort to construct a mid- to intermediate-level radioactive waste storage. It is doubtable whether it will ever be able to find a site to bury spent nuclear fuel, which constitutes a high-level radioactive waste.

People say that nuclear power plants are dangerous but there is no other alternative: no other energy source is as economical and environmentally friendly as nuclear energy. Such belief is on a shaky ground, however. The unit power generation cost of a nuclear power plant stands at 47 won (4.4 cents) per kWh, which is cheaper than 62 won for coal and 118 won for LNG. Since more than half of the LNG price is tax, and the very small tax is levied on nuclear energy, the difference in cost is not big after subtracting the tax effect. In addition, if the cost for processing spent nuclear fuel and compensation for residents are added to the cost, the unit cost of nuclear energy jumps to 95 won (8.9 cents) to 143 won (13.5 cents). This is far from being a cheap energy. Considering the risk of radioactive materials, nuclear energy can hardly be considered ecofriendly either.

We must give careful consideration to the development of thermal power plant and renewable energy technology as well. Yeongheung Thermal Power Plant in Ongjin County, Incheon, which is powered by coal, reduced emission of surfer oxide and nitrogen oxide by one third in three years. The number of population in Yeongheung increased has nearly doubled since the construction of the power plant. The power plant also increased power output from 500,000 kW to 870,000 kW, boasting efficiency to a level on par with a nuclear power plant (1 million kW). Renewable energy is also developing robustly. The U.S. government plans to lower the price of solar energy to 10 cents per 1 kWh, similar to the price of coal, in four to five years. If the goal is clear, technology will develop in tandem. It can be said that though there is alternative, the Korean government has not proactively sought to find one.

Managing energy demand is also important. The Dong-A Ilbo recently replaced more than 16,700 florescent lights with LED lighting, and cut electricity consumption in half. Using Esco, an energy-saving firm, the newspaper company spent no single penny to install the new facilities. Rather than pressuring the public and companies to save energy during peak demand seasons, the government should expand energy-saving facilities in ordinary times. Energy-saving technology using information, communication technology is advancing day after day.

Many people purchase and consume expensive ecofriendly vegetables and eggs to ensure the health of family members. People also avoid consuming MSG, which is scientifically just the same as natural protein. Then, how can people believe that they can afford to freely waste electricity at cheap costs by risking the danger that could force our decedents to the brink of destruction? People’s demand for safety has increased, but the government’s energy policy remains the same as in the past.