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Korea’s nuclear phase-out policy takes shape

South Korean president Moon Jae-in has used the permanent shutdown of Kori unit 1 to outline his intended nuclear energy phase-out policy. He said no new reactors would be planned and existing units will not operate beyond 40 years.

Moon addresses the Kori 1 closure ceremony (Image: presidential website)Kori 1 is a 576 MWe pressurized water reactor that started commercial operation in 1978. A six-month upgrading and inspection outage at Kori 1 in the second half of 2007 concluded a major refurbishment program and enabled its relicensing for a further ten years. A subsequent relicensing process could have taken Kori 1 to 2027, but Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) announced in August 2015 that it had withdrawn its application to extend the unit’s operating licence. In June last year, the company applied to decommission the reactor. The permanent shutdown of Kori 1 was approved by the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) earlier this month.

The unit was taken offline at midnight on 18 June, having supplied 155,260 GWh of electricity over the past 40 years. Its closure makes it South Korea’s first nuclear power unit to enter the decommissioning phase. KHNP is to submit a decommissioning plan for the unit within five years.

An event was held today at the plant site to mark the end of electricity generation by Kori 1. It was attended by some 230 people, including government officials, local residents, civil society organizations and employees of KHNP. Also in attendance was South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in. Moon was one of seven candidates in the May presidential election who signed an agreement in March for a “common policy” for phasing out the country’s use of nuclear energy.

Speaking at the event, Moon said, “I will review the policy on nuclear power plants entirely. We will abandon the development policy centred on nuclear power plants and exit the era of nuclear energy.” Moon said plans for new power reactors will be cancelled and the operating periods of existing units will not be extended beyond their design life. The country’s second-oldest reactor, Wolsong 1, will be shut down as soon as possible, he said, taking into consideration the power supply and demand situation.

With regards to units 5 and 6 of the Shin Kori plant – construction permits for which were approved by NSSC last June – Moon said he would reach a “social consensus” as soon as possible on whether their construction will proceed. He said the cost of constructing the units, their safety and the costs of any potential compensation would be taken into consideration.

Following the closure of Kori 1, South Korea has 24 power reactors in operation with a combined generating capacity of 22,505 MWe. Together they provide about one-third of the country’s electricity.

Concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants due to earthquakes was one reason for the phase-out policy, Moon said. The Gyeongju earthquake that struck South Korea in September 2016, which he acknowledged caused no deaths, has shown that Korea “is no longer a safe earthquake zone”. He said the seismic resistance of the country’s nuclear power plants – which had been reinforced since the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan – would be re-examined. He failed to acknowledge that it was not the earthquake itself that caused the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, but the tsunami that followed.

Moon said the transformation of national energy policy is never easy and acknowledged “there will be many difficulties”. He said his nuclear phase-out policy is to gradually reduce nuclear capacity over a long period of time. 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. He said the government will now “actively nurture safe and clean energy industries”, including renewables and LNG power generation. “We will make the energy industry a new growth engine for Korea,” Moon said.

In addition to phasing out the country’s use of nuclear energy, Moon has also pledged to reduce South Korea’s use of coal-fired power generation. On being elected, he immediately shut down eight old coal-fired plants and said no new such plants would be constructed. The remaining ten coal-fired plants will be closed within his term of office, he said today.

Moon has said he favours renewable energy sources as a replacement for coal and nuclear. However, it would take some time for South Korea to build up its generating capacity from renewables and it is likely to have to rely on gas to meet power demand.

Source: World Nuclear News

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