Board Member Speaks out Against Reactor Closure

  • By Ahn Joon-ho

    June 21, 2018 13:07

    The single board member of state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power to oppose the closure of Korea's second-oldest nuclear reactor in Wolseong, North Gyeongsang Province has spoken out about his reasons.

    KHNP made the decision in a board meeting last Friday despite having extended the reactor's lifespan to 2022.

    Cho Sung-jin, a professor at Kyungsung University, told the Chosun Ilbo on Wednesday, "I just can't understand the decision. Why are they trying to throw away something they spent W700 billion to renew? It costs W3 trillion to build a new one. This is all coming from taxpayers (US$1=W1,107)."

    Cho said he tried to convince other board members to keep the reactor operating to be able to supply power to North Korea if the need arises, but to no avail.

    KHNP spent W700 billion renovating the reactor and extended its life span from 2012 to 2022. But it decided to shut down the reactor early next year due to the Moon Jae-in administration's phase-out of nuclear energy.

    "Even Japan, which suffered the Fukushima earthquake, and Taiwan, which had previously renounced nuclear energy, have returned to embrace it, but Korea is heading in the opposite direction. I wonder if the government has a contingency plan for power shortages."

    According to the minutes of the board meeting, KHNP admitted that the reactor is safe but decided to close it citing low levels of usage last year. But the government halted the reactor's operation in May last year for maintenance, so it stands to reason that the usage rate stood at only 40.6 percent in 2017.

    Over the last three years, the average was 57.5 percent, and the overall rate since the reactor went into operation in 1983 was 78.3 percent, much higher than the 54.4 percent KHNP deems the break-even point.

    "Isn't it natural for the usage rate to drop during extended maintenance?" Cho asked. Asked if he is opposed to the government's anti-nuclear stance, Cho said, "In this country, renewable energy such as solar and wind power cannot serve as base power sources. That's possible only in countries with large desolate regions with plenty of sunlight like India, Africa and Spain."

    He claimed the government's aim of boosting the proportion of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2030 is "a far stretch."

    The government insists that Korea has the conditions to support both wind and solar power. But Cho disagrees. "The technology to produce high-quality power from a small amount of wind still needs developing, and the government is being too hasty." He added that whole mountains may have to be razed for solar parks, and such systems require numerous power substations.

    One problem could be Nimbys, who are particularly combative in Korea. "Would you like to have a substation built next to your house?" he asked. 

    Cho admitted that nuclear plants do entail safety risks but believes there is no choice. "We need to be flexible with the future in mind," he added. "We already came up with measures placing safety as a top priority after the Fukushima and Gyeongju earthquakes."

    Cho has resigned from the board of KHNP. "I realized I could no longer do what I feel is right," he said.

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