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South Korea power boss steps down after UK nuclear deal nears

President Moon's policy may have influenced Kepco head's early departure

Kepco President Cho Hwan-eik, second from right, with regional peers in Beijing, including Masayoshi Son of Softbank, at far left, in March 2016.

SEOUL -- Korea Electric Power, or Kepco, said on Thursday its President Cho Hwan-eik would resign tomorrow, with the news coming a day after the state-owned utility was awarded preferential negotiation rights for the purchase of Toshiba's nuclear power business in the U.K.

His successor at South Korea's dominant power producer has yet to be decided.

Kepco is owned 51.1% by the government, including a 32.9% held by the state-run Korea Development Bank.

Cho was formerly a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, but assumed his current post at Kepco in 2012.

When asked about the resignation, before the end of his term in March 2018, Cho said in a statement: "Although I spent a lot of time thinking [about whether I should resign] before a massive task of winning orders for nuclear reactors in the U.K., I am happy that I can step down after I could see the daylight."

In addition to resetting the company's leadership for the acquisition of Toshiba's subsidiary NuGen, the election of a new president in South Korea in May might also have affected Cho's decision. A change to the country's administration has often been a key factor in triggering the departure of public corporations' presidents.

According to reports by South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, Cho told his inner circle the reason for his resignation, saying he was "tired."

While the new administration under President Moon Jae-in has promised a policy of abandoning nuclear power generation domestically, it has urged the business world to export the technology abroad.

A former high-ranking official of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said that many nuclear industry officials harbored "mixed feelings" toward such a contradictory policy.

Kepco shares edged up by 1% to close at 38,850 won on Thursday in Seoul, while the benchmark Kospi index fell 0.5% to 2,461.98. However, looking at the values over the year to date, Kepco has lost 11.8%, while Kospi is having a boom year, gaining 21.5% as of Thursday.

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