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What is an economically viable alternative to nuclear energy?
OCTOBER 14, 2013 06:56  
A government-private joint working group, which sets out the second national energy basic plan, proposed the government a policy that lowers the share of nuclear energy to 22 to 29 percent by 2035. It is a huge change because the government plans to cut the energy to the half of the first national energy basic plan under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration, which was to increase the share to 41 percent by 2030. This means that the government can no longer get public support with a policy to increase nuclear energy, which was said by Kim Chang-seop, chairman of the working group and Gacheon University professor.

Japan뭩 Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 dealt a blow to the public뭩 tolerance to nuclear energy. In the wake of the accident, 31 countries started to conduct safety checks and even revisit their plan to build a nuclear power plant. The degrees vary, however. Germany and Italy declared they would wean themselves off from nuclear energy while oil-producing Middle Eastern countries are building nuclear plants.

The U.S. and the U.K. said they would hold on to nuclear energy. Just as rumors milling around Japanese seafood shows, there are growing concerns over nuclear energy in Korea due to its proximity to Japan. In addition, the corruption scandal over nuclear plants, which employees forged documents on parts of a nuclear plant, made matters worse. Nuclear power requires highly advanced technologies and Korea is one of the few countries that are competitive in the area, but it should be based on a social consensus. Without a public consensus, the government can pay social and political costs as was the case with the protests in Buan against a nuclear waste disposal facility.

Some say that nuclear energy may not be as economic as one might expect because the lifespan of a nuclear plant is only around 30 years and it has issues with after-use nuclear wastes disposal and the disclosure of aged facilities. It is even harder to find a site for a new nuclear plant than a high-voltage power transmission tower as the case of Miryang shows. In addition, the emergence of a cheaper shale gas facilitates the supply of energy sources for coal-fired power plants.

Ideal and reality are different, however. It is hard to find a good alternative to nuclear energy in countries like Korea that have no other energy sources. Given the slow development of new and renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic power and wind power, coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) are alternatives to nuclear energy. But they are imported and thus have a negative impact on trade balance. Coal-fired gas is a main culprit of greenhouse gas emissions and could have an impact on the emission of greenhouse gases. Nuclear energy is economically competitive in that LNG costs 187 won (0.17 US dollar) to produce one kilowatt of electricity and nuclear energy costs 39.2 won (0.04 dollar). A reduction of the share of nuclear energy could have a bigger economic impact than expected.

The working group recommended a new energy pricing scheme which imposes taxes on bituminous coal and reduces taxes on LNG and kerosene to manage the supply and demand of electricity demand, but it would not be easy to do so. As this year`s power shortage shows in summer, the supply and demand management policy requires the people뭩 pains and sacrifice. If the government wants to reduce the share of nuclear energy, it should find an economically viable option that can replace nuclear energy.

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