S. Korea to bump nuclear power to 30% or more of energy mix by 2030

Posted on : 2022-07-06 16:52 KST Modified on : 2022-07-06 16:52 KST
The announcement represents a reversal of Moon Jae-in’s policy of nuclear phase-out
The Shin Hanul unit1 (left) nuclear reactor is currently in a trial run, while the Shin Hanul unit 2 (right) is poised to be granted authorization for use. (provided by Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power)
The Shin Hanul unit1 (left) nuclear reactor is currently in a trial run, while the Shin Hanul unit 2 (right) is poised to be granted authorization for use. (provided by Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power)

The South Korean government plans to increase nuclear power generation to over 30% of total domestic energy production by 2030.

Critics are decrying what they describe as “backsliding” in South Korea’s energy policy, noting that other major global economies have been decreasing their reliance on nuclear power or keeping it level while increasing the amount coming from new and renewable sources.

During a Cabinet meeting presided over by President Yoon Suk-yeol on Tuesday, the administration approved a “new administration energy policy direction” that included an increase in the percentage of South Korea’s electricity coming from nuclear power.

The increased use of nuclear power was also included in the administration’s list of policy initiatives it laid out when taking office, as well as its “economic policy direction” announced last month. What makes the latest Cabinet vote significant is that it formalized that approach as administration policy, while setting a concrete target of “30% or more” of electricity to be provided through nuclear power.

To achieve this, the administration plans to resume construction of Shin Hanul reactors No. 3 and No. 4 — which was halted during the administration of Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae-in — and hasten the completion of other reactors that are currently being built, including Shin Kori No. 5 and No. 6.

Other key components in the energy policy direction included the establishment of a comprehensive preemptive resource security system through the enactment of special resource security legislation; the establishment of an electricity market and rate system based on market principles; and a target of 10 nuclear reactors to be exported through 2030.

The “30% or more” target given by the administration for nuclear power is 6.1 percentage points higher than the target presented by the Moon administration. The Yoon administration based its target on the expectation that the number of reactors online would increase from 24 today to 28 by 2030.

In contrast, the Moon administration announced plans last year to reduce the percentage of electricity coming from nuclear power from 27.4% to 23.9% by 2030 when it finalized its nationally determined contributions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by that year.

It planned to achieve this by halting the construction of new reactors (including the two Shin Hanul units) while barring the continued operation of plants that had reached the end of their design life. This would lower the number of reactors in operation to 18, while the percentage of electricity coming from new and renewable sources would be increased to 30.2% — compared with just 6.3% last year. The effect of this would be to reduce the role of nuclear power in overall electricity production.

Another noteworthy aspect of the energy policy direction approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday is that it did not include specific targets for increasing the use of new and renewable energy courses or reducing the use of coal for electricity generation.

In terms of new and renewable energy, the administration said it was “making adjustments to reflect a reasonable level in consideration of feasibility and the public’s receptiveness.” Regarding the use of coal, it only said that it would “encourage reasonable reductions.”

This is a step backward from the third “energy master plan” finalized by the Moon administration in 2019, which stated that the percentage of electricity from new and renewable sources would be increased to 30%–35% by 2040, with “bold” reductions in the reliance on coal for electricity generation.

The latest energy policy direction also read as a declaration of plans to resume construction on the Shin Hanul reactors.

“With the resumption of construction on Shin Hanul units 3 and 4 being finalized through the administration’s supreme decision-making procedures, a basis has been established for the swift execution of 12 billion won in work related to design for Shin Hanul units 3 and 4 this year,” the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said.

For this reversal of nuclear phase-out policies to actually be implemented — including a swift resumption of construction on Shin Hanul 3 and 4 — related content will need to be included in the Energy Master Plan, which is the highest-level plan for the field of energy, and in the lower-level master plan for electricity supply and demand.

But the legal basis for formulating the energy master plan disappeared with the March abolition of the Framework Act on Low Carbon, Green Growth. The Framework Act on Carbon Neutrality took its place when it went into effect in March, but did not include any provisions actually serving as a basis for the development of a new basic energy plan.

The Energy Ministry said the new policy direction “internally and externally takes the place of the policies of the previous [Moon Jae-in] administration, which stated plans for a phased reduction of nuclear power use.” According to this explanation, the new direction was presented by Cabinet vote under circumstances where the legal basis for drafting a plan has disappeared and passage of a related amendment has been delayed in the National Assembly.

When the Moon administration was pursuing its nuclear phase-out power policies, it first announced a “road map,” after which it went through a process of revising the master plan for electricity supply and demand and reflecting that in the energy master plan.

Environmental groups responded with criticisms and concerns over the Yoon administration’s road map, with its focus on expanding the role of nuclear power.

In a statement, the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements said, “While major countries like the UK, France, and Germany are increasing their new and renewable energy targets, South Korea alone is backsliding.”

It also called on the administration to “formulate energy policies that center on new and renewable energies rather than focusing on the dying industry of nuclear power based on the misjudgment that uranium imported from places like Russia and China will be more effective for energy security than new and renewable sources.”

By Kim Jeong-su, senior staff writer

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles