Nuclear Phase-out Could Mean More Power Imports from China, Russia

  • By Ahn Joon-ho

    December 11, 2018 12:58

    KEPOCO is seeking to import electricity from China and Russia to make up for lost power generation due to the government's nuclear phase-out plan, according to a report. At present, Korea generates 100 percent of its own electricity.

    KEPCO on Monday submitted the report to Liberty Korea Party lawmaker Jung You-sub, saying it wants to secure means to stabilize power supply as the government pursues a green energy policy.

    The Korean power monopoly wants to connect to power grids in Northeast Asia, importing electricity from China and Russia and exporting it to Japan.

    It would be part of a "Northeast Asia super grid" project proposed by Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son after the nuclear plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan in 2011. But the project has been mired in differences between the various governments and due to the fact that it would have to involve North Korea.

    President Moon Jae-in raised the subject again during the Far East Economic Forum in Russia in September last year, saying it could bring "peace and prosperity" to Northeast Asia.

    KEPCO paid consulting company McKinsey W1.6 billion in August this year to conduct a feasibility study. McKinsey concluded that KEPCO would have to spend between W7.2 trillion and W8.6 trillion on the plan (US$1=W1,128).

    The main reason behind the plan is the low cost of Chinese and Russian energy. KEPCO believes that imports would cut the operation of thermoelectric power plants in Korea and contribute to lowering greenhouse gas and fine dust emissions by W120 billion in money terms.

    But experts doubt there will be any tangible benefits. First, the political risks are vast. Korea still suffers from an unofficial Chinese boycott of Korean goods and services, imposed when Beijing objected to the U.S. stationing a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery here. Power imports could be equally used as a bargaining chip whenever Seoul does something Beijing does not like.

    Russia has also been threatening to turn off the spigot of natural gas supplies to Europe every time political conflicts erupt.

    Roh Dong-seok at the Korea Energy Economics Institute said, "Energy security translates directly into national security. What happens if power supplies from China or Russia are halted?"

    The notion that importing electricity will help the environment is also flawed. Lee Deok-hwan at Sogang University said, "China produces electricity mainly by burning coal, and if coal-fired power generation increases there, it would cancel out any reduction in fine-dust emissions in Korea."

    Joo Han-gyu at Seoul National University said, "Importing electricity from China and Russia would make us dependent on them. The energy independence that we achieved through decades of work building nuclear power plants is being threatened by the irresponsible energy policies of this government."

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