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Controversy over Realities of New and Renewable Energy Growing
Amid Nuclear Phase-Out Policy
Controversy over Realities of New and Renewable Energy Growing
  • By Michael Herh
  • July 7, 2017, 01:30
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An aerial view of nuclear power plants Shin Kori 5 and 6 in Ulsan of which the new administration has stopped the construction.
An aerial view of nuclear power plants Shin Kori 5 and 6 in Ulsan of which the new administration has stopped the construction.


Despite the acceleration of policies for nuclear and coal phase-outs, electric power generated from new and renewable energy source was, in fact, only marginal. Although the production volume of electric power based on new and renewable energy sources reached a record high last year, its half came from power plants using byproduct gas from the steel production process. Furthermore, solar power and wind power generation accounted for only 0.7% of the total electric power generated.

According to the “Electricity Market Statistics in 2016” published by the Korea Electric Power Exchange on July 6, last year, the volume of new and renewable energy electricity trade hit 19,353GWh. This figure is a 9.8% increase from the previous year. Statistics show that new and renewable energy is growing steadily, but the truth is turning heads. Above all, about the half of the volume of new and renewable energy electricity trade was electricity produced using by-product gas (9,272 GWh). By-product gas refers to by-product gas generated from chemical raw materials used to make products. This kind of gas is mainly produced in steel production processes.

In the meantime, solar and wind power generation which are the core of policies for nuclear and coal phase-outs produced 3,481 GWh, a meager 0.7% of the volume of total electricity trade. The rate of increase was 21.4%. But the percentage is negligible compared to coal gasification power generation, which is explosively growing. The volume of the trade of electric power generated by coal gasification power plants hit 298,468 megawatts last year, an increase of 11,201% over the previous year. Coal gasification power generation towers over coal power generation in terms of efficiency. But the former is classified into new and renewable energy because it can reduce sulfur oxides (upwards of 90%), nitrogen oxides (upwards of 75%), and carbon dioxides (upwards of 25%).

The expansion of related facilities is at a snail’s pace. As of last year, photovoltaic power generation facilities had a capacity of 2,661 MW, 2.4% of the total installation. Given that its proportion was 2.2% in 2015, they swelled only 0.2%. Their growth has slowed down. Last year, solar power and wind power facilities shot up 21.7% year on year. Since peaking at 38.6% in 2013, the growth of photovoltaic power generation facilities has been on the decline year by year.

"Although a nuclear phase-out has high value, it is nearly impossible without nuclear power generations to balloon new and renewable energy,” said Yang Jun-mo, a professor of economics at Yonsei University. “Now is time for the government to accurately estimate electric power demand and come up with a scientific analysis of pressures to raise electric charges kindled by a nuclear phase-out and a switch to new and renewable energy.”

Meanwhile, 27 experts of the US environmental group Environmental Progress sent an open letter to President Moon on July 5, expressing concerns over South Korea's policies for a nuclear phase-out. 

The letter contained the signatures of 27 experts of major US universities including Harvard University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and Columbia University. One of the 27 is Kerry Emmanuel, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was singled out as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2006. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Rose also wrote his signature in the letter.

"South Korea is a world leader in nuclear power plants that can build nuclear power plants with high credibility and economic efficiency," they said in the letter. "If South Korea shut down nuclear power plants, we will lose a valuable supplier that can provide cheap and rich energy that can save the world from poverty and resolve a crisis of climate change. Before President Moon makes the final decision, he is advised to consider this matter with various energy and environmental experts."

In particular, US environmental activists and experts expressed concern about Korea's withdrawal from the nuclear power plant market. "The nuclear industry of South Korea is especially important given the failure of Areva of France and Westinghouse of Japan and the US," the letter read. "If South Korea abandons nuclear industry, only Russia and China will compete for new nuclear power plants."

They were also concerned that Korea's nuclear power plant could cost Korea a lot of money. "There will be an initial investment cost of US$23 billion to build new natural gas-fired power plant to replace nuclear power plants and gas imports will cost US$10 billion annually," they claimed in the letter. "Solar and wind power plants cannot be an alternative to nuclear power plants in South Korea." To replace all nuclear power plants in South Korea with solar power plants, solar power plants should be built, covering land five times the size of Seoul.

In South Korea, opposition from scholars in the energy field is also on the rise. On July 5, The Professors Calling for the Establishment of Responsible Energy Policies held a press conference at the National Assembly and put out a statement urging the current government to stop implementing the nuclear phase-out policy. The statement made by 417 professors of 60 universities specializing in nuclear engineering and mechanical engineering.

"Is it not an imperial act for the South Korean government to regard a nuclear phase-out as a settled matter due to a declaration by the President?” the professors said at the press conference. "The implementation of the nuclear phase-out policies not fully discussed will lead to a rise in burdens on taxpayers, instability in electricity supply and demand, the weakening of the nation’s competitiveness, an outflow of energy wealth and an energy security crisis among others."

They argue that South Korean is at the world-class level in running nuclear power plants and there is little possibility that accidents like one Fukushima would occur in South Korea. As its ground, they suggested IAEA data that says that South Korean nuclear power plants’ unplanned outage rate is much lower than those of the US (0.8), France (2.67) and Russia (0.8).