OPINION

[Editorial] Back to nuclear energy

By Korea Herald

Two reactors to be reactivated to meet surging demand; energy policy must be reviewed

  • Published : Jul 22, 2018 - 17:11
  • Updated : Jul 22, 2018 - 17:11
With electricity demand surging due to the sweltering heat, the government, which has vowed to stop using nuclear energy, is paradoxically increasing the use of nuclear power plants.

Electricity demand peaked at 86,306 megawatts on July 16, surpassing the previous high of 85,183 megawatts on Aug. 12, 2016. Power demand further peaked at 87,591 MW and 88,080 MW last week on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Both figures beat the figure of 87,523 MW, which was the maximum demand forecast for this summer by the government in its eighth plan on electricity demand and supply in December last year.

With demand rising sharply, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy has taken steps to prevent short supply.

The gist of the measures is to increase the operation of nuclear power plants. The ministry decided to reactivate two nuclear plants, one from July 21 and the other next month.

The nation’s nuclear plant operating ratio, which fell to as low as 54.8 percent in March, is expected to hover around 80 percent after the two plants go into operation.

The government may have stopped normally operating atomic reactors and reduced their use because it thought it could meet demand sufficiently. But as the continued heat wave threatened to put power into short supply, it is hurriedly moving to restart nuclear power plants and raise their operation ratios. This shows how absurd it is to push for the disuse of nuclear energy without alternatives.

Much of this situation has been blamed on electricity demand for this summer being underestimated. The maximum electricity demand for this summer forecast in the plan was based on a 2.5 percent economic growth projection for this year. At that time, the government’s growth outlook was 3.1 percent. Critics raised suspicion that electricity demand was underrated in order to underpin the government policy to discontinue atomic power.

Experts argued the demand forecast should be raised in preparation for the fourth industrial revolution and era of electric vehicles. But the government did not listen, scrapping plans to build four new nuclear power plants and shutting down Wolsong-1 without extending its lifecycle as other countries typically do. These moves were made with the government citing the demand estimate, an important factor in setting energy policies.

As critics anticipated, the government forecast went wide after about seven months, and a situation requiring the reactivation of nuclear power plants has unfolded.

The move toward renewable energy is justified, yet criticism of the policy to replace all nuclear energy with renewable energy is unending because of side effects of a rapid switch to the misguided policy. As electricity demand increased more than forecast due to a severe cold wave in January and February, the government requested companies on 10 occasions refrain from consuming power. Electricity demand for the winter had been underestimated under the policy for the disuse of nuclear energy, and as a consequence companies at no fault of their own had a hard time trying to use less electricity.

Likewise, the latest step to raise the utilization of atomic plants this summer has something to do with the government policy to speed the shutdown of nuclear energy. The measure to restart two nuclear reactors is as good as admitting the inevitability of using nuclear energy just in case.

The government must draw up an electricity demand and supply plan anew without regard for its half-baked policy to shut down all of the nation’s nuclear plants. This time it needs to shed its obsession with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, geographically less suitable to Korea, and review its overall energy policy.

The push for renewable energy has already caused many side effects. World-class know-how and industrial ecology related to nuclear power generation are fading. Meanwhile, mountains have been deforested to set up solar panels,

The government must stop racing toward the goal of shutting down all nuclear plants without preparing measures to deal with adverse effects. It ought to figure out ways to make the best use of its nuclear plants.