South Korean President Pledges Nuclear Phase Out

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday vowed to upend the energy production mix in the country with a one-two punch: The phase out of nuclear power and a sharp cut back on coal-burning energy plants.

Moon Jae-inMoon spoke at an event marking the shut down of Kori Unit 1, South Korea's oldest nuclear power plant that was closed for decommissioning on Monday, June 19.

Moon did not pledge to close down currently operating plants, but said his government would work in that direction, canceling all plans for new domestic nuclear power plants and for any extended license applications. Currently, South Korea derives about 30 percent of its electricity from 25 commercial nuclear reactors.

Moon cited the triple-meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Generating Station as a primary concern. “South Korea is not safe from the risk of earthquakes,” he said. “And the damage caused by a quake can have such a devastating impact.”

According to news agency Yonhap, Moon said that the 2011 disaster at Fukushima, which began with the Great East Japan Earthquake, “clearly proved that nuclear reactors are neither safe, economical nor environmentally friendly.

His plans to close down a viable industry is expected to be opposed by construction workers and companies. South Korean nuclear technology is currently an export business headed by the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Company, a subsidiary of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), which is 51 percent owned by the South Korean government.

Decommissioning Kori Unit 1, meanwhile, is expected to take 16 years at a cost of about $600 million. Phasing out the remaining 24 reactors, while attempting to replace them with solar and wind power could be a major testing ground for the energy stability and economic feasibility of making such a radical adjustment in a compact time frame.

Several of the reactors in the country have current license expiration dates between 2020 and 2030. Without Moon's policy initiative, that would be time frame in which those reactors would be up for license extensions.

Moon's term in office, meanwhile, ends in 2022. Under the constitution, a president is allowed only one five-year term.

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