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Agony over nuclear power plants

Posted August. 20, 2018 07:35,   

Updated August. 20, 2018 07:35


There is a heated controversy over the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) that lost its lead in bidding for the Moorside nuclear power plant project in Britain. Some argue that the NuGen consortium pulled out of the bid for fear of the current policy of the Korean government against nuclear power plants.

This issue is not about whether nuclear power plant policies are right or wrong. The British government, not the NuGen, holds the key to this issue and how much the British government is going to pay the KEPCO for building a nuclear power plant is the most important factor in this.

The British government and KEPCO are discussing that the KEPCO will fund for the construction and make profits by selling electricity. If Britain keeps the electricity price too low, the KEPCO would never bid for this project. But if it puts the price high, the British public would turn against the project. The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset was widely criticized in 2016 for setting the electricity price twice as higher as the market price.

While the British government was agonizing over this, the negotiation with the KEPCO was pushed back and the NuGen consortium is putting pressure on both the British government and KEPCO, threatening to take the negotiation preference away.

Back in 1991, the Margaret Thatcher administration started to import electricity after privatizing it and abandoning nuclear power plants. It sold nuclear power plants and their operation to EDF, a French electricity corporation, and liberalized its electricity market. By 2025, however, half of 15th power plans will have become obsolete. Britain, which lost its own nuclear power plant technology, has to outsource it to other countries. Still, the nuclear power takes up some 21 percent of the energy mix in Britain.

France that chose the opposite tactic to export nuclear power plants has some concerns as well. French nuclear power plants are run by the state, which is why its nuclear power dependency is as much as 75 percent. France is a nuclear power stronghold that rakes up 3 billion euros (some 3.87 trillion won) by exporting nuclear plants every year.

After the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011, the French government decided to reduce the ratio of nuclear power to 50 percent by 2025, following the global trend. But a dilemma comes from the fact that 300,000 jobs will disappear, and it has to meet the electricity supply and demand with more expensive sources.

Germany, which stays neutral when it comes to nuclear power plants, has boldly decided to close all nuclear plants by 2022. But the environmental degradation is worsening as it has to rely more on thermal power, and the electricity price is soaring even though Germany purchases electricity from France. It is trying to import natural gas from Russia, running a risk of undermining security.

Those three European countries took different ways in regard to nuclear plants, but they are arriving at the same destination. They decided on reducing nuclear dependence, but that means energy becomes more expensive. Energy supply and demand is directly related to the national security. The KEPCO still has an advantage in the Moorside project considering that the British government is having a sense of crisis that it cannot outsource its nuclear power plant to China, the enemy of all Western countries. Job losses that would come from phasing out nuclear plants are also a significant issue.

Korea is agonizing over the same issue. If it decides to reduce nuclear power, it needs to execute the plan. It neither has to give up benefits arguing against nuclear power, nor has to run counter to its nuclear policies and increase nuclear plants. There is no need for Korea to rush because the whole world is looking for an answer. If it writes down a wrong answer in a hurry, fixing would be even more difficult.

Jung-Min Dong ditto@donga.com