By Yoon Ja-young
While the government is speeding up the transition to renewable energy from nuclear power, voices are getting louder that it should reconsider the plan amid side effects such as possible electricity rate hikes and environmental problems caused by solar power plants. The ratio of those supporting expanding or maintaining nuclear reactors also has increased in polls.
According to a poll by Gallup Korea, the ratio of those who want to expand or maintain nuclear power was 54 percent, while 32 percent opted for decreasing it. Compared with a governmental poll last year, the ratio of those supportive of nuclear reactors rose by 10 percentage points.
Sticking to the presidential pledge of energy transition, however, the government recently decided to shut down the Wolsong-1 reactor as well as scrap plans to build four new nuclear power plants.
"The government is moving too fast with the energy transition. The policy is turning out to be wrong, and concern has increased among people over the waste of taxpayers' money and political chaos," said Kim Hark-rho, president of the Korean Nuclear Society, Monday. Established in 1969, the society has some 5,000 nuclear experts from academia and industries as its members. They suggested that the government gather public opinion over its nuclear-free policy, and set up a committee composed of energy consumers and experts for a more rational energy transition.
"The direction of the energy policy shouldn't be left in the hands of a self-righteous government that is engrossed with the presidential pledge," he said.
According to the society, energy transition is not a global trend. In Sweden, for instance, nuclear power still accounts for 33 percent of energy demand though the country chose not to build any more reactors back in 1980 through a national referendum. Japan has also resumed operation of nine reactors as LNG-fueled power turned out to be too costly.
The government has been stressing that there will be no electricity rate hike despite the energy transition, but experts say that this will be inevitable since the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) has recorded over a 120 billion ($107.6 million) won deficit for two consecutive quarters. The government is considering raising the low rate for electricity currently paid by factories for what they consume at night.
The society warned that energy transition will hurt the stable supply of electricity as well as increase costs over a decade. The country's key industries such as semiconductors, steel, displays and chemicals, which are big energy consumers, will be damaged.
"The administration should have the flexibility of European countries, which are delaying the closure of nuclear reactors after calculating gains and losses," Kim said.
He also pointed out that the plan will work negatively on Korea's nuclear exports. Korea was positive about winning a deal for a nuclear power plant in Saudi Arabia thanks to the successful completion of a nuclear reactor in the United Arab Emirates, but this has become murky as the Middle East country recently included all five bidders on its shortlist.
"As of now, we can't be optimistic at all about the bid. The government should construct new reactors previously planned here so as not to lose opportunities overseas," Kim said, pointing out that the supply chain will be hurt by the energy transition.
The society estimates that up to 30,000 jobs will disappear due to the energy transition, leading to the collapse of the supply chain.