"Korea should make full use of nuclear power as its main power source over the next 60 years." Rremarks of the President Moon Jae-in at the Global Energy Supply Chain Issues Inspection Meeting drew a lot of attention. This policy was not only a presidential election pledge, but it has been steadily progressing for five years of his tenure. As discussions on the abolition of the nuclear power plant policy begin, the need for a major change in energy policy is emerging.
To establish an energy policy in the right direction, it is necessary to look at the reasons for implementing the nuclear phase-out policy. The biggest reason was the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. According to a study by Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute (KEITI), 500,000 people were directly or indirectly exposed to radiation immediately after the accident. Also, many of them are affected by radioactive cancer or genetic diseases. In addition, radioactivity flowed not only into Fukushima, but also into soil and seawater, causing the deformation of agro-fishery products and destruction of ecosystems. Through this, people realized that nuclear power generation was too serious and fatal in the event of an accident and began discussions on nuclear phase-out.
The climate crisis is another reasib for nuclear dismantlement. At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), 195 countries around the world signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that global average temperatures do not rise above 2℃. Accordingly, Korea has decided to reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent by 2030. To achieve the goal, renewable energy is being supplied step by step instead of nuclear power. Furthermore, Korea suspended the life span of its old nuclear power plants, canceled plans to build new nuclear power plants, and suspended the operation of Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant No. 1. Instead, it announced that it would increase the ratio of renewable energy and liquefied natural gas to 20 percent and 37 percent by 2030.
The nuclear phase-out is a trend not only in Korea but also around the world. Italy is a representative country that implements nuclear power plants. Italy was the first country to de-nuclearize. In 1987, Italy decided to suspend the construction of new nuclear power plants and dismantle existing nuclear power plants through a referendum and implemented nuclear power plants first in the world. Since Chancellor Angela Merkel took office, Germany has also been implementing de-nuclear power plants that will gradually suspend the operation of all 17 nuclear power plants by 2022 through the "Energy Initiative 2010."
However, the implementation of the nuclear dismantlement policy initiated to protect the environment and humanity is costly. The Korea Electric Power Cooperative (KEPCO) announced its first electricity bill increase in about eight years. In addition, the climate environment expenditure of KEPCO is increasing every year from 1.5 trillion won in 2016 to 3.6 trillion in 2021. The government is making up for the enormous cost of building nuclear power plants with national taxes. In response, Jeong Bum-jin, a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyunghee University, said, "The carbon neutral policy to eliminate nuclear power plants will inevitably lead to a surge in electricity bills. To prevent this, the development of nuclear power plants and renewable energy must be combined."
Another problem is that Korea's nuclear power industry, which used to be the world's best, is gradually collapsing due to the implementation of nuclear phase-out policies. According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE), sales of the domestic nuclear power plant industry fell 28.5% from 5.5 trillion won in 2016 to 3.93 trillion won in 2019. During the same period, the number of workers in the nuclear power industry decreased by 13%. As the operation and construction of nuclear power plants were suspended due to the implementation of the nuclear power plant policy, the industrial base began to weaken, and vicious cycles such as a decrease in sales and outflow of the workforce have been repeated. Lee Jong-ho, a senior researcher at SNU Nuclear Research Institute for Future Technology and Policy (NIFTEP) said, “Since the mid-1980s, we have steadily improved technology and price competitiveness, but the de-nuclearization policy will all disappear.”
As such, nuclear phase-out is still unreasonable to implement in Korea . Moreover, according to the Korea Energy Agency in 2021, Korea is an energy consumer or an energy poor country that relies on imports for 92.9% of energy consumption. In other words, Korea is very vulnerable to changes in the global energy market. The national energy policy has a great influence not only on industrial development but also on the lives of ordinary people. Therefore, it is not right to implement nuclear phase-out in a situation where there are not enough alternative energy sources other than nuclear power plants. Therefore, Korea should reorganize its energy policy by stabilizing energy supply and demand through the abolition of nuclear power plants and expanding resource diplomacy.