With Kori-1 shutdown, Pres. Moon signals major turn away from nuclear energy

Posted on : 2017-06-20 17:04 KST Modified on : 2017-06-20 17:04 KST
Changed energy policy prioritizes public safety, in line with South Korea’s turn from developing to developed country
President Moon Jae-in takes a photo with children from the area around Kori Nuclear Power Plant
President Moon Jae-in takes a photo with children from the area around Kori Nuclear Power Plant

“Permanently shutting down operations at Kori-1 is the beginning of a journey toward a nuclear-free country; it is the turning point toward a safe country. I will soon be preparing a roadmap for the nuclear power phase-out that can set South Koreans’ hearts at ease,” President Moon Jae-in said on June 19. With anxiety increasing around the world about the safety of nuclear power following the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, Moon has become the first South Korean president to declare a nuclear power phase-out, signaling a major change in the country’s energy policy.

“Since South Korea has to import the majority of its energy, nuclear power was the energy policy chosen when we were still a developing country, but now it’s time to change that,” said Moon during an address delivered at a ceremony marking the permanent shutdown of Kori-1. The ceremony took place at the Kori Nuclear Power Headquarters of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), located in Gijang County, Busan.

Moon’s declaration of the goal of making South Korea nuclear-free signifies his willingness to turn the country’s current energy policy paradigm on its head. It affirms a transition from the energy policy of developing countries, which prioritize cheap power and efficiency, to that of developed countries, which place a premium on the environment and on the people’s right to life.

The key message offered by Moon is “public safety.” While mentioning the earthquake that struck Gyeongju in Sep. 2016, Moon emphasized that South Korea is no longer safe from earthquakes. Citing the fact that 3.82 million people live within a 30 km radius of the Kori plant, he argued that a nuclear accident in South Korea could be even more horrific than what happened at Fukushima. “I will make this country completely different from the way it was before the [2014] Sewol accident. A safe country is the solemn promise we made to the children on the Sewol ferry,” he stressed.

“The world today is moving irreversibly toward phasing out nuclear power. This is something we have to start now on behalf of our descendants, who will live in this country for millennia to come,” Moon said, making clear that it was impossible to return to the energy policy of the past.

Moon’s address also marks the point when he begins to specifically implement the pledges he made as a presidential candidate. He had promised to scrap all plans for building new nuclear reactors, to immediately shut down reactors whose operational life cycle has ended, to suspend construction on Shin Kori-5 and Shin Kori-6, and to shut down Wolseong-1. “It’s as if the people of Busan [who live close to the Kori nuclear plant] have to live with this bomb by their beds that could go off at any time,” Moon said, after watching the nuclear disaster film “Pandora” at the end of last year. “We shouldn’t be asking whether or not to open up Pandora’s box [nuclear power]; we should be getting rid of the box altogether.”

“The reason we haven’t been able to phase out nuclear power is not because of a lack of researchers but because of a lack of government will. The fact that the new government has not only shut down the Kori-1 nuclear reactor but also announced a new energy policy and declared its intention to phase out nuclear power in this address is very significant,” said Yun Sun-jin, a professor at the Graduate School of Environmental Studies at Seoul National University.

“The next stage is to draw up a detailed roadmap for the nuclear power phase-out. Developed countries are reducing their consumption of electricity. A superficial comparison should be avoided since their industrial structures are different from ours, but in the future, we too should be able to move in the direction of the efficient consumption of energy,” Yun added.

By Jung Yu-gyung and Lee Jung-ae, staff reporters

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