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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Times on Jan. 16)

2014/01/16 07:11

Mistaken energy policy

: Long-term plan runs squarely counter to global trends

The Second Energy Basic Plan, fixed at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, anticipates that Korea’s electricity demand will grow 80 percent in 2035 from the level in 2011. And the government aims to meet this rising need by increasing the number of nuclear power plants at the same rate, from the present 23 to a maximum of 41.

It’s as if policymakers are saying to the people: “Keep using as much electric power as you want. We can always build more atomic power stations.”

Yet one can’t help but suspect that their demand projection is overestimated. Only a few months ago officials said they would shift the focus of energy policy from supply expansion to demand control. Still the finalized plan estimates electricity demand will grow 2.5 percent a year, even higher than the 2.2-percent annual increase rate projected in the first basic plan drafted six years ago.

Koreans use too much electricity compared with their economic size even now, but the government has jacked up its estimate for demand growth to rise even further. It would be strange if the people don’t regard this as a green light to keep prodigally using the expensive energy. The plan also pushes up the share of nuclear power in the nation’s energy mix from the 26 to 29 percent by 2035.

All this runs squarely counter to what governments in most advanced countries are doing ― with probably the exception of the United States and Canada buoyed by the shale gas boom. In Europe, including even nuclear energy-addicted France, the shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy is an irreversible trend. Already, the portion of solar, wind and geothermal energy on the old continent hovers above 20 percent, while the comparable share in Korea is targeted at a mere 11 percent even two decades later.

The most astonishing change is being made in Korea’s nearest neighbor, Japan, led by a most unlikely figure. It was symbolic on the same day Seoul announced a plan to sharply increase the construction of nuclear plants that two influential Japanese politicians ― former prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Morihiro Hosokawa ― declared a “nuclear-free” Japan. Especially surprising was the transformation of Koizumi, a conservative nationalist and a former nuclear energy advocate, who reportedly switched his position after the disaster in Fukushima.

Proponents of nuclear power say it is cheap, safe and clean. None of them are correct: experts agree that the actual cost of building an atomic power station could rise to 20 times higher, taking into account ''hidden” costs to scrap worn-out plants and dispose of waste fuel. Nor is it clean. The current generation is handing the Earth over to its descendants after turning it into an apple riddled with holes inside.

The myth of safety was shattered in Japan years ago. Any similar mishap in Korea ― the only country in the world where 4 million people live within a 30-km radius of a nuclear power complex ― will cause damage beyond comparison, shaking the nation to its foundation.

We agree that nuclear energy could be a bridge for moving toward renewable energy, which takes some time but has unlimited potential to replace fossil fuel. As long as Korea sticks to the present convenience of nuclear energy without preparing for the future, however, it will remain a second-rate country forever. The government must reconsider its plan.