South Korean President Moon Jae-in remarked on October 22 that the South Korean government would resume the construction of the fifth and sixth units of the Singori Nuclear Power Plant without delay while adhering to its policy for zero nuclear power generation.
He made the remarks in response to the recently completed public discussion on the resumption of the construction. He also said that the government would scrap every plan for new power plant construction and shut down the first unit of the Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant, which already reached the end of its service life, in the near future.
President Moon went on to say, “The Korean government is planning to focus on natural gas, new and renewable energy sources for the next administration to continue the nuclear phase-out policy,” adding, “I will give my full support to decommissioning nuclear power plants to lead the overseas nuclear decommissioning market,” without any comment on the development of overseas nuclear power plant market. According to the IAEA, 150 nuclear power plants are currently in a permanent shutdown state around the world, only 19 out of those have been decommissioned so far, and 216 are expected to be decommissioned by 2050. According to consulting firm Deloitte, the size of the nuclear power plant decommissioning market is estimated to have reached 440 trillion won three years ago.
Experts point out that only three countries have any decommissioning experience as of now, no less than 15 out of the 19 have been decommissioned by the United States alone, and it takes at least 10 years for South Korea to have its own decommissioning technology and techniques. Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) is planning to start the development of soil and site decontamination equipment and automatic classification equipment in the first half of 2026. In addition, mobile workspace development is slated to start in March 2019. This means KHNP can have its own decommissioning technology in 2027 at the earliest.
Jeon Hee-gyeong, the spokesperson of the opposition Liberty Korea Party, said, “President Moon had first to have make a sincere apology to cause the economic loss amounting to 100 billion won (US$90 million) and a social conflict by stopping the construction of nuclear power plants arbitrarily,” adding, “It was a serious problem that the President showed a will to follow the nuclear phase-out argument of the radical citizen groups who did not have any professionality and power by concocting the argument into the people’s will packaging
Disputes have risen to the surface over the government’s plan to shut down the first unit of Wolseong and stop the construction of the six plants including Shin Hanul and Cheonji. According to the government and industry sources, KHNP has already spent approximately 340 billion won on the construction of Shin Hanul and Cheonji, divided into 270 billion won on the design of Shin Hanul and the rest on land purchase for Cheonji. Besides, local governments have granted more than tens of billions of won in subsidies. Landowners in Yeongdeok, North Gyeongsang Province, where the two units of Cheonji were scheduled to be built, filed a suit against KHNP, claiming that it should buy their land. KHNP bought 587,295 square meters, 18% of the scheduled total, from July last year before the land purchase has been recently stopped.
Wolseong reached the end of its service life in November 2012 and its service life was extended to 2022 in February 2015 by the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission after years of arguments. Locals living in the vicinity of the power plant filed a suit to stop the operation of the plant and the court ruled in favor of them in February this year, saying that the commission’s decision lacked the latest technology, due deliberation and proper voting. The commission submitted a written appeal on February 14.
For Wolseong to be shut down earlier than planned, KHNP should decide to do so at its board meeting or the commission should decide to do so after safety and security investigations. The former option can lead to a breach-of-trust lawsuit and the latter can compromise political neutrality. The commission may withdraw its appeal under the pressure from the President and government. Seven out of its nine members, including the chairperson, are recommended by the ruling party and the government.