South Korea to scrap building new nuclear power plants

Seoul-based British artist Andy Brown poses next to his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that's made of tea bags in his Seoul apartment

South Korea is one of the few countries that have also exported its nuclear reactor technology. Currently, South Korea derives about 30 percent of its electricity from 25 commercial nuclear reactors. On being elected, he immediately shut down eight old coal-fired plants and said no new such plants would be constructed.

In January this year, a groundbreaking peer-reviewed study from researchers at Harvard University and Greenpeace International said approximately 50,000 lives a year could saved by 2030 if no new coal-fired power plants are built in Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

"I will scrap all preparations to build new reactors now underway and will not extend the lifespan of current reactors", he said.

"The government will not extend the operational life cycle of nuclear reactors".

"So far, South Korea's energy policy pursued cheap prices and efficiency", Moon said at an event marking the shutdown of Kori-1, South Korea's oldest nuclear plant.

But South Korean industries are anxious, since nuclear and coal power cuts are certain to raise energy costs and could squeeze the country's electricity supply.

Moon said another aged nuclear reactor, whose lifespan was extended by 10 years to 2022, would be dismantled as soon as possible while considering the situations of power supply. Nuclear safety reemerged as a major issue for the public after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan in 2011, caused by an quake and tsunami. Even if South Korea starts the phase-out now, it will take several decades until the currently operating fleet of reactors reach the end of their operation, Moon noted.

The former president Lee Myung-bak saw nuclear as an important source of clean energy, while Park wanted to increase the number of reactors to 36 by 2029.

Many reactors are located dangerously close to residential areas in the densely populated nation, he added, warning of "unimaginable consequences" in case of a nuclear meltdown.

Recent earthquakes in southeastern South Korea also dented public support in the country that was long believed to be safe from earthquakes. South Korea is also searching for answers on how and where to store spent nuclear fuels permanently. He also said the shutdown of Kori-1 can be seen as another opportunity for Korea, since disassembling a nuclear reactor is not only a matter of time but also incredible skill.

Decommissioning Kori Unit 1, meanwhile, is expected to take 16 years at a cost of about $600 million.

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