Prime Minister Jeong Hong-won visited the Korea Power Exchange (KPX) in Samsung-dong, Seoul on June 3 to watch the electricity supply situation with KPX director Nam Ho-ki. The organization issued a preliminary warning for a possible power shortage at 1:31pm on that day.
Former Minister of Knowledge Economy Hong Seok-woo went in a hurry to Yeonggwang County, South Jeolla Province in December last year upon returning from the United States with his investment promotion delegation. This was because the national power supply was on the verge of failure in the wake of the stop of the operation of the fifth and sixth atomic power stations located in the region which had been caused by an unprecedented scandal surrounding the use of defective parts. “The power stations will never be reactivated unless safety is guaranteed,” he said at that time but the facilities were put into operation again before the end of that year amid considerable controversy as there was no other option to deal with the situation.
Just six months later from then, exactly the same thing is happening like deja vu. The operation of Shingori Unit 2 and Shinwolseong Unit 1 has been halted again because of the same scandal and Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Yoon Sang-jik has returned hurriedly from his overseas trip.
These days, the power supply authorities are bending over backwards to restart Hanbit Unit 3 in Yeonggwang and Hanwool Unit 4 in Uljin County, North Gyeongsang Province, both of which have malfunctioned since last year. The former’s operation was stopped in November 2012 due to cracks in the control rod guide tubes and the latter has been shut down for a year owing to problems related to the heat pipes of the steam generators. Although the reoperation is a matter to be decided by the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy has already included the facilities into its national power supply plan for this summer, allowing for the consideration that the fast-increasing electricity demand cannot be met without the nuclear power plants.
As explained above, the precarious situation in which a crisis caused by nuclear power is tackled by means of none other than nuclear power is repeating itself year after year. The government is planning to force major corporations to save electricity from August but a large-scale blackout is highly likely between June and July unless Hanbit Unit 3 is run again. In short, the restart of the defective nuclear power plants is about to be in progress again due to concerns over a power crisis with the safety considerations put aside.
Korea is the ninth-largest electricity consumer in the world and nuclear power accounts for no less than 30% of the total supply. Since the price of electricity is low here,thenational power consumption increased at an annual average rate of 5.6% between 2002 and 2011. The cooling load during the summer peak season has exceeded 1.7 million kilowatts, which is equivalent to the combined output of 17 atomic power stations or dozens of coal-fired or LNG power plants. “If energy policy remains focused on the supply side, we can’t but become more and more dependent on large-scale energy sources such as nuclear power,” said Lee Jin-woo, vice chairman of the Energy & Climate Policy Institute. He went on, “The government’s demand management measures as of late are nothing but compelling the private and corporate sectors to sacrifice themselves for a certain period.”
Earlier, the government expected that things would get better next year as the reserve rate surpasses 16% based on its plan for the operation of Shinwolseong Unit 2 and Shingori Unit 3 scheduled for this year and Shingori Unit 4 next year. However, the plan is showing signs of going awry now with all of the three power stations being hit by the scandal. A comprehensive investigation is underway, signaling a bumpy road ahead for the government.
Experts are pointing out that its power supply policy should be redirected to revolve around the demand side, instead of concentrating on the construction of power facilities. 27% of the power generators in the country are at least 20 years old.“Korea, rather inevitably, has had to focus on the supply side due to its economic growth centered around the heavy and chemical industries but now is the time to adjust the policy, including power rates,” said Samsung Economic Research Institute senior researcher Kang Hee-chan, continuing, “This may pose a challenge to industrial sectors for the time being but the radical reform is the needs of the times in the end.