June 20, 2017 6:23 am JST

South Korea eyes LNG, renewables in shift away from nuclear

President Moon plans shutdown of aging coal plants during tenure

SOTARO SUZUKI, Nikkei staff writer

President Moon Jae-in speaking at a celebratory event to decommission the Kori No.1 nuclear reactor near Busan. © Yonhap, Kyodo

SEOUL -- South Korea will embark on an ambitious shake-up of its energy policy by tapping more renewable energy sources as the government pledges to reduce the country's dependence on nuclear power.

President Moon Jae-in explained the policy pivot Monday at a ceremony marking the closure of the Kori No. 1 nuclear reactor on the outskirts of the southern city of Busan. Nuclear power currently accounts for 30% of power generated at home.

"We will devise a road map outlining our exit from nuclear power as early as possible," Moon said. He did not mention specifics, such as target dates or a plan for the country's future energy mix.

South Korea will scrap plans to build new nuclear power plants, and forbid reactors to operate beyond their set lifespan. The president aims to soon shut down the Wolsong No. 1 reactor, which is operating under an extension, after assessing the country's electricity demand and supply. He also hopes to "reach an early social consensus" regarding the future of the Shin Kori No. 5 and No. 6 reactors, which are currently under construction.

At the same time, the government plans to slash the use of coal, which generates around 40% of South Korea's energy but is a major cause of global warming. The president has promised to close down 10 aging coal power plants during his term.

As an alternative, South Korea will raise operating rates for less-polluting LNG power plants, which accounts for 21% of power generation. In addition, Moon hopes to nurture industries related to renewable energy to lift their proportion in the country's energy mix.

But South Korean industries are worried, since nuclear and coal power cuts are certain to raise energy costs and could squeeze the country's electricity supply. "Industrial electricity prices will be reviewed, and we will prevent excess power consumption by the manufacturing sector," said Moon. "We will work toward the goal from a mid-to-long perspective so as to avoid impacting industrial competitiveness, while supporting medium and small businesses."

Kori No. 1 is South Korea's first nuclear reactor to be decommissioned. In light of the country's need to develop decommissioning technologies, Moon is also considering setting up a research facility to support future shutdowns, with plans to eventually commercialize such technologies. 

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