South Korea’s President-Elect Pledges ‘Nuclear Zero’ by 2060. Actions Have Already Begun
Nuclear energy in the Republic of Korea is being threatened as a result of the May 9 presidential election of Moon Jae-in.
Since at least 2012, when he suffered a narrow election defeat, Moon has advocated a halt to nuclear plant construction, prohibiting license extensions and achieving a “nuclear zero” policy by 2060.
With the election behind him, Moon can expect support in the National Assembly from fellow members of the Democratic Party of Korea and from the People’s Party led by Ahn Cheol-soo, who also campaigned to lead the country with an energy platform similar to Moon’s.
While waiting for the newly elected government to announce its energy policy, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) has directed Kepco Engineering & Construction to suspend detailed design work for two new APR1400 units at the Shin Hanul nuclear generating station.
Yesterday, BusinessKorea reported that KHNP had also suspended its land acquisition program for the proposed Cheonji Nuclear Power Plant after accumulating approximately 18% of the area needed, that there is pressure to stop building Kori units 5 & 6 after having completed 28% of their construction at a cost of at least 1.5 trillion won (1.3 billion USD), and that Kori 1 and Wolsong 1 will both be shut down within months when their soon-to-expire operating licenses end.
Successful and Growing Korean Nuclear Enterprise
Given the success of Korea’s nuclear industry, Moon’s position and its political popularity may be difficult to understand. Though it did not build its first plant until 1970, South Korea has 25 reactors supplying one third of its electricity.
Early plants were imported from Canada (AECL), France (Framatome) or the United States (Westinghouse), but newer ones are domestic refinements of Combustion Engineering’s System 80 plus design.
Until Moon’s election, Seoul planned to build a total of 38 reactors by 2029. It has also achieved overseas success; earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that a Korean-led consortium had completed the first of a four unit power plant at Baraka.
KEPCO is actively investigating the potential of replacing Westinghouse as the plant vendor for the Mooreside project in the United Kingdom.
With consistent government and public support since the early 1970s, the Korean nuclear industry has sustained a building program, increased its capability, trained new workers, refined manufacturing techniques, learned how to schedule complex projects and managed to deliver functional products on a schedule and within a budget, even in distant lands like the UAE.
According to a recent study led by Jessica Lovering, the director of energy at the Breakthrough Institute, the Korean experience proves positive earning curves can apply to nuclear plant construction.
“Overall, from the first reactor in Korea in 1971, costs fell by 50%, or an annual rate of decline of 2% for the entire Korean nuclear construction history,” Lovering’s April 2016 report said. “This is in sharp contrast to every other country for which we present cost data.”
Root Causes of Antinuclear Strength
The pattern of steady improvement suffered a serious setback in 2013 when it was discovered that about 2,000 out of a sample of more than 290,000 quality assurance documents were forged, covering up the installation of control and safety system cables that did not meet requirements.
Those poor quality cables had been installed in several recently completed nuclear plants. Replacing the cables cost tens of millions of dollars and required extended shutdowns often lasting several months.
In combination with reactions to the Fukushima event, the counterfeit cable scandal provided ammunition for an increasingly vocal antinuclear movement.
During the period when the affected reactors were shut down for repairs, Seoul met its electricity needs by burning more domestic coal and imported natural gas.
During 2013 and 2014, their consumption increased by an average of 0.5 billion cubic feet (BCF) per day, providing a measurable contribution to a seller’s market in LNG.
A report published by the U.S. Energy Information Agency last August noted the declining LNG market in South Korea, and concluded that the potential for demand growth was limited by government policies that favor coal and nuclear over natural gas.
History of Support for Gas
Coal burning has been blamed for contributing to an increase in fine particle pollution and a decrease in overall air quality. In 2016, South Korea operated about 50 coal burning power plants that produced 40% of its electrical power.
During the campaign Moon gave a group interview to an audience that included S&P Global Platts.
“We should reduce consumption of fossil fuels, coal in particular. Coal-fired power plants are accused of air pollution and fine dust emissions….I will make South Korea build no more nuclear reactors and close down aged nuclear reactors when their lifespans expire,” Moon said.
Moon stated that he would prefer to replace the electricity produced by coal and uranium with renewable sources. But he admitted that the process would take a long time.
He pointed out that South Korea has combined cycle gas turbine power plants that are only operating at a 40% capacity factor and suggested that could quickly be raised to 60% or more.
Moon entered national politics by serving as a close aide to President Roh Moo-hyun from 2003-2008.
During that period, there was a notable thaw in relations between the North and the South along with a warming of relations with Russia.
State-run Korea Gas Corp. signed a preliminary agreement with Gazprom in 2008 to buy 10 Bcm/year (slightly less than 1 BCF/ day) of Russian gas for a 30-year period, beginning in 2015.
That deal, on hold for the past eight years, is likely to be revived.
On Geopolitics and LNG
Shifting away from nuclear energy will make South Korea increasingly dependent on its neighbors. That situation would have rippling effects through both the energy industry and world geopolitics.
Russia, North Korea and China have interests in binding Seoul to their fuel exports, making the government less willing and able to cooperate with the U.S.
At the same time, numerous suppliers in the natural gas industry would profit by increasing LNG consumption in South Korea, a market into which additional capacity from Australia, Africa and the U.S. might be sold, helping to keep world LNG prices firm and profitable.
South Korea’s powerful shipbuilding industry is a leading supplier of LNG tankers and has already seen improvements in its order book in recent months. The country may become a key participant in the Asian Super Grid that has been proposed by Softbank CEO Son Masatoshi.
KEPCO and its supplier base will have to act rapidly to resist political actions designed to dismantle their carefully assembled nuclear plant construction and operating business.
One factor that could help them find allies is Moon’s plan to pay for his initiatives by increasing electricity tariffs for energy intensive businesses. That should be an unpopular move in a country with an export-driven manufacturing economy.
Note: A version of the above was first published in the May 12, 2017 edition of Fuel Cycle Week. It is republished here with permission.
Right now, I’m far from excluding that the projects of Moon Jae-in.will hit the wall of reality, like the anti-nuclear program of François Mitterrand had in an amazing way in 1981, or the referendum in Sweden to shut down nuclear in 1980.
South Korea proves that is possible to build nuclear cheap, fast and quite safe. If they falter the panorama for nuclear energy looks doomed.
Germany and Canada aren’t building any nuclear power plants.
USA, France and Japan have serious troubles with their nuclear programs.
South Korea, the best promise by now, may step back.
Russia is still pushing ahead but its economy isn’t in good shape.
China and India are still pushing ahead but nuclear is a small part of their electricity production.
China has 21 nuclear reactors currently under construction with plans to build 41 reactors. China also has plans to build several floating nuclear reactors.
Yes, but this effort is a tiny part of the whole chinese electrical generation. By now nuclear share is only 3% and chinese pretend it to grow to 5% by 2020 and 10% by 2030… Not very impressive. Greetings.
Its a lot more impressive than what the US is doing. And China is just getting started.
Is that capacity or annual generation?
If I’m not mistaken, generation
Countries around the world appear to be doing everything possible to ensure that China and Russia will economically dominate nuclear energy production in the 21st century.
The natural gas (oil) companies have fooled renewable energy advocates around the world into believing that renewable energy can completely replace electricity production on the planet when, in reality, 65% to 75% of name plated solar and wind electric power systems are are actually supplied with energy from natural gas– for the simple reason that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.
@Marcel F. Williams
There will be a fair amount of economic dominance remaining in America as a result of our well funded and honed skills in extracting natural gas and in investing in or loaning money to countries like China, Russia, Australia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
We will also collectively remember – hopefully before too much longer – that creative Americans, a term that includes future Americans that might be citizens elsewhere right now – are pretty good at inventing and developing world-changing products.
Not if research facilities close, and innovation is stifled through the abolition of government funded, and even partially subsidized, research programs. You really are in denial about whats happening, aren’t you?
I’m not in denial of the political situation. I will, however, deny the assumption that the trickle of funds being spent by the government for nuclear energy innovation during the past 40 years has had any positive impact. Instead, the efforts expended to win the crumbs has been detrimental. There are perhaps one or two exceptions to that statement that I can think of, but I will not name them in hopes that their supporters manage to keep them going.
I’m not an ideological anti-government guy. In the case of energy research and development, however, I believe that the government is squarely and irretrievably aligned with interests that LIKE the hydrocarbon economy. That did not begin with Trump; the last president I can think of that did not owe at least partial allegiance to fossil fuel and banking interests was JFK.
Your response was crafted through tunnel vision, unlike your post I initially addressed. There is far more at stake than NE innovation and research funding. Across the board, this administration seems determined to ham string innovation, and place us at a disadvantage with the rest of the world powers. And his latest stroke of sheer insanity, to pull us out of the Paris agreement, erases any resemblence of global leadership we might have hoped to retain. It will take decades to recover from this administration’s incompetence and malfeasance, if we ever can.
You keep forgetting that Atomic Insights is a “tunnel vision” (aka focused) information source that covers a broad and impactful technology and the industry in which it operates.
It is not a general purpose political publication.
I haven’t “forgot” anything. In fact I remember the numerous times you have commented that energy IS a political issue. To separate the manner in which Trump is “governing”, from a discussion that includes the assertion…
“that creative Americans, a term that includes future Americans that might be citizens elsewhere right now – are pretty good at inventing and developing world-changing products.”
….is ridiculous. Trump is undermining the very premises you offer there, in more ways than one.
You are very inconsistent in how you moderate, Rod. And thats your right. It is, after all, your blog. But like Trump, if the conversation isn’t going your way….
Though some political decisions can and do affect the world’s energy markets and supplies, not all political decisions, actors or philosophies have a traceable impact on topics within the admittedly fuzzy bounds that I have drawn around the topics appropriate to Atomic Insights.
There are PLENTY of sites on the Internet that are following every move that Trump makes, including enormous expenditures of time and bytes reacting to typos, lack of proofreading or clever distractions from topics that have actual importance.
Thank you for that insightful comment. I am also of the opinion that, not only have we not spent much on nuclear R&D, but what we have spent has not helped the industry at all.
Instead of spending all that time and money on things like a “proliferation resistant closed fuel cycle” or even greater levels of safety (i.e., on fabricated “problems”), how about a serious research effort into reducing costs? That is, on nuclear’s only real problem. How about a thorough evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of the entire body of nuclear regulations and requirements (including fab QA requirements), with an eye towards eliminating ones that don’t provide real, tangible, and cost-effective benefits? How about a review of whether most of the current regulations and requirements are really necessary for SMRs, given their clear lack of potential to actually hurt anyone?
Barring that, how about just “writing the industry a check” as opposed to spending all that R&D money on its behalf? That is, direct subsidies equal to what RE gets.
“…the efforts expended to win the crumbs has been detrimental.”
I actually believe that many of the people working in nuclear R&D have intentionally hyped largely non-existent nuclear “problems” (safety, proliferation, waste, etc.) in order to justify research funding. The industry doesn’t need “help” like this.
One area the feds could help out on is to change direction on the regulatory paradigm so that it is more in line with Svinicki’s risk-informed approach. They did this a few years ago on the research reactor side and having experienced that first-hand it was a net benefit. Especially avoid ruinous decisions like the aircraft impact rule for reactors already under construction. From what I’ve heard, it was a significant (not the only one) driver in the cost overruns for Vogtle and VC Summer.
The other is to either SOGOTP on Yucca Mountain or an alternative. Either the NWPA means something or it doesn’t. If Yucca Mountain is off the table then maybe a good approach would be to amend the NWPA to focus on partitioning of the used fuel and actinide recycle for non-recoverable materials. That would reduce volume and heat load. That would allow a facility similar to WIPP to take almost all of the non-useful materials for the foreseeable future.
These kinds of things could likely be implemented within the existing budgets for NRC and DOE, perhaps a little less.
This, I really don’t understand. This article outlines a Korsnick plan to reach out to NE advocacy groups and entities. Why? They are already advocating for NE. I understand trying to unify, and develop a universal strategy. But it just seems to me the brunt of the effort needs to be in bringing detracters into the fold, by a strong counter offensive against the widespread public acceptance of FUD. Rod has mentioned a few times the less than ample funding that the industry has for extensive media marketing. If in fact Korsnick is trying to develop a united front, an important aspect of that effort should be in assuring that all the advocacy entities contribute funding that can facilitate the media blitz that is a necessity to changing public opinion.
“I will, however, deny the assumption that the trickle of funds being spent by the government for nuclear energy innovation during the past 40 years has had any positive impact.”
It certainly does seem that nearly miraculous things happened in the 50’s and 60’s for nuclear power and then a wall was hit. Times are different than the 50’s and 60’s. The great US manufacturing base has been disrupted. The digital age has superseded the atomic age and the space age. The politics of this time certainly seem crazy. So I pose this crazy idea. If research money is needed, perhaps it can use the powers of the digital age to an advantage. Are the necessary funds to develop specific new items of research beyond what is possible through crowd funding?
Environmental groups seem to be well funded by contributions. Generation IV nuclear power certainly presents the best way to solve environmental problems. I’ll bet there are a lot of people out there that would throw in a few bucks to save the Earth for future generations.
“KEPCO and its supplier base will have to act rapidly to resist political actions designed to dismantle their carefully assembled nuclear plant construction and operating business.”
Yeah, right. I’m not holding my breath. When has the nuclear industry, anywhere, ever fought back (against political attack, unfair policies, excessive regulations, etc…). It is politically clueless and impotent (unlike its powerful and influential competitors).
I actually think the the French nuclear industry has done as good a job as it could in holding its ground. Sharing a border and a political balance with Germany isn’t easy
The nuclear industry’s “battered wife” syndrome is probably cultural. The nuclear industry was created under the auspices of the federal government. The plants are mostly operated by heavily regulated utilities. Many of those working in the industry have a military background that will “yes sir!” even when they may not like or agree with the situation.
The fossil fuel industry arose in a far more competitive market environment.
Ontario, particularly Bruce Power, is doing a great job in advertizing nuclear power such that it becomes familiar to and something Ontarians are comfortable with. Perhaps US utilities and operators can take a lesson from your neighbour to the north. 😉
The problem with cheap Korean nuclear is that it’s not clear what the real cost prices are because the utility and the construction firm are one company.
So considering the East-Asian culture, one may assume some (or a lot) cross-subsidizing. Especially since the utility operation is essentially a monopoly (though some competition is going/coming)…
Unlike renewables which get no subsidies or preferential treatment /sarc.
Sorry, but that’s not the point.
Compared to nuclear in western countries, Korean nuclear looks extreme cheap.
The issue is whether the prices we have regarding Korean nuclear, are the real (cost + profit) prices of Korean nuclear.
As best as I can tell, that is open and correct for the UAE build.
Losses on that FOAK export project (despite low import wages)?
Construction costs of nuclear in Korea?
Costs of Korean nuclear in e.g. UK or USA?
The wide support Moon enjoys for his nuclear phase-out suggest that his Korean fellows concluded that renewable are a much cheaper solution. Such opinion change won’t occur without scientific study results.
If the Korean construction prices for NPP’s are inserted in the French ADEME simulation model, then the cheapest solution may still be 40% nuclear. Hence no major opinion change. But that change did occur.
That suggests that publicized prices for new Korean nuclear are far below cost price. So major cross-subsidizing.
The wide support Moon enjoys for his nuclear phase-out suggest that his Korean fellows concluded that renewable are a much cheaper solution. Such opinion change won’t occur without scientific study results.
IMO, the wide support Moon enjoys comes from the fact that increased consumption of natural gas [temporarily] benefits a large number of powerful Korean and international economic and geopolitical interests.
BAS, the Koreans have been building nuclear units for years, and they have been doing large infrastructure projects in the middle East for decades. So where’s the FOAK?
First APR1400 nuclear plant started operations in Dec. last year
The UAE APR-1400 plant was ready in April this year…
It’s the first nuclear plant they built outside Korea.
Sure it is difficult to get proper information about costs.
However, Korea has exported four reactors to United Arab Emirates and the price is probably “true costs”.
$20 billion total 5.6 GWe.
Do you have information on what it will be in $/MWh ?
Further, Russia gives an offer to former “satellite states” 50 $/MWh
Correct me if I am wrong.
So, the great White Knight, riding to NE’s rescue, Donald Trump….
Is now trying to save his “wall” by suggesting we coat it with solar panels, “so it will pay for itself”. You can’t make this stuff up. Who needs “Saturday Night Live” when we have a hilarious clown show to watch all seven days of the week?
The sun is at the Mexican side of the wall.
Will become an interesting shooting target for the Mexicans.
Yes. I heard that on the news on the way to swim and just groaned. Then some joker came on, did a cost analysis that included US subsidies and then said how great it would be to sell the electricity to Mexico. Why the heck would the US taxpayer subsidize electricity going to Mexico?
Its just more ignorant knee jerk blather, advanced by someone that is treading water trying to convince us that one of his absurd ideas is actually going to come to fruition. The Wall will never be built, much less be covered with solar panels. Personally, I think we should put wind turbines on the lawn of the White House. With the amount of hot air blowing out of that place, they could power the entire east coast
My point was not so much to ding Trump (too easy) but to complain about the so-called news commentary. This was on NPR, which certainly isn’t pro-Trump, but they hear the word solar or wind, and their ability to think critically goes out the window. Suddenly, everything’s great.
They had some joker from the Rocky Mountain Institute on as an independent expert the other day. I wanted to reach into the radio and slap some sense into them.
Butcha don’t wanna slap some sense into the buffoon that came up with the absurd idea of the solar panels on the “wall”, and the panels paying for the wall by selling the juice to Mexico? If it wasn’t for Trump’s initial ignorant blather, than NPR wouldn’t have had the opening to further the absurdity.
Interesting that this blog is IGNORING what is happening with the energy department and the EPA. Afraid of offending this band of corrupt special interest poodles that Trump has stacked the deck with, Rod buries his head in the sand. He can hide from expressing an opinion, but he can’t hide from the effects of Trump’s despicable policies, appointments, and actions. None of us can.
When playing with grandchildren all day long, I am capable of ignoring almost anything.
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