South Korea Reverses Course

By Will Davis

In a stunning but not wholly unexpected move, newly elected South Korean president Moon Jae-In announced during a ceremony marking the final shutdown of Kori Unit 1 that future nuclear power plants in South Korea will be cancelled and that the country will begin to shift toward renewables for its future energy needs—backed by natural gas.

Kori NPP courtesy Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power.

Kori NPP courtesy Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power.

According to the statements made by Moon Jae-in, a discussion will be held to address the future of South Korea’s Shin Kori Units 5 and 6 but no further units beyond those will be ordered. According to the South Korean president in a report from World Nuclear Association, the fate of these units rests upon his and the government’s perception of the new units’ safety, cost, and the cost of potential compensation for not constructing the units.

Jae-in admitted that the move to switch from nuclear to renewables will increase the cost of electricity. He was quoted by Financial Times (FT) as saying, “So far, the country’s energy policy has focused on low prices and efficiency. But this should change now with our top priority on public safety and the environment.”

Artist's concept of Shin-Kori Units 5 and 6, which have construction licenses but have not started work.  These are APR1400 units- the most modern Korean type, and the type being built overseas in the UAE.  Illustration courtesy Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power.

Artist’s concept of Shin-Kori Units 5 and 6, which have construction licenses but have not started work. These are APR1400 units – the most modern Korean type, and the type being built overseas in the UAE. Illustration courtesy Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power.

This reversal in course comes at a time when construction of South Korean nuclear plants had slowed as some of the newer site choices had run into local opposition. However, there were still fairly concrete plans for a further two South Korean–designed APR1400 units beyond the presently contested Shin-Kori-5 and -6 (to have been added to the Shin-Hanul plant) and the additional four South Korean–designed APR+ units to have been sited at Cheonji (or perhaps only two at Cheonji and the other two at Daejin). Because of the present developments, these last two APR1400s and all the APR+ units are now listed by the World Nuclear Association as “cancelled.”

FT noted that experts are already questioning the potential for both increased energy costs and energy shortages as South Korea tries to swing to pushing renewables onto the grid, backed by (entirely imported) natural gas generation. FT also noted that the new South Korean president might even import Russian natural gas through a pipeline that traverses North Korea.

Also important is the impact that this move would have on the export of nuclear plants by South Korea. The world-leading Barakah nuclear plant (a four-unit APR1400 plant) is nearing completion in the United Arab Emirates, and South Korea has been actively promoting the export of further units. However, if the construction of new nuclear is halted in South Korea, it is hard to say whether or not the South Korean nuclear design industry could survive based upon sporadic and largely unpredictable exports. There is also the question of overseas buyers’ desire that plants built in their nations be built first in South Korea; this would not be possible under the present plan if the APR+ never gets built in South Korea.

For now, it remains to be seen what the real impacts on South Korean energy prices will be—and it also hangs in the balance what will become of the last planned units at the venerable Kori/Shin-Kori nuclear plant site. Perhaps the public and South Korean businesses will recoil once the price of electricity begins to jump with no real change in public safety. It would have to be serious enough to force a change in leadership, however.


ANS member Will DavisWill Davis is a member of the Board of Directors for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. He is a consultant to the Global America Business Institute, a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and he writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is also a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, and serves on the ANS Communications Committee and the Book Publishing Committee. He is a former U.S. Navy reactor operator and served on SSBN-641, USS Simon Bolivar.

5 thoughts on “South Korea Reverses Course

  1. Digby Macdonald

    If Mrs. Merkel doesn’t think that Germany is worth 2 % of their GDP, why should we? They are not worth another nickel of US taxpayer’s money.

  2. Jim Hopf

    How does shutting down nuclear and replacing it with imported gas reflect “prioritizing public safety and the environment”, given that natural gas (let alone coal) is far more harmful to both?

    This constitutes and enormous environmental crime. The industry, and their political allies, need to grow some backbone and fight back, by any means necessary.

    It seems clear that Moon is in the pocket of the world oil/gas industry. Their plans are unfolding all over the world (Korea, Taiwan, even France).

  3. Anonymous

    Imposing your hegemony onto the world has a price. In any case, not the US Taxpayers pay for the defense of S. Korea, but the South Korean population.

  4. Brian Mays

    In 2006, all NATO members agreed that members should meet a target of spending 2% of their GDP on defense. Germany has not spent that much on defense since 1991. In fact, they’ve let it drop to only about 1.2%.

  5. William Saylor, PE

    It is interesting that two countries whose defense costs are tremendously underwritten by US taxpayers (Germany and South Korea) find it in their interest to go expensive green and renewable, and become more dependent upon Russia for natural gas. Those countries certainly have the right to pursue what they think is in their national interest but it again raises the question about the limits of US taxpayers tolerance for subsidizing the rest of the world. If each of those countries had to pay for their defense would they pursue the same energy policies?