In June this year, undergraduate students majoring in nuclear engineering raised an objection to the South Korean government’s nuclear phase-out policy. That was a scream of the students in the related departments. However, as the South Korean government didn’t turn away its face from the policy, the students turned their steps, too. This year, only five out of the 819 students in their first year at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) opted to major in nuclear engineering. Under the circumstances, experts pointed out that the value chain of the South Korean nuclear power industry would collapse from the mid-2020s.
In fact, the collapse is occurring at a faster-than-expected pace. According to Liberty Korea Party lawmaker Chung Yoo-sup, a total of 120 persons voluntarily retired last year from KEPCO E&C, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power and Korea Plant Service & Engineering. The number is greater when those who retired from nuclear power companies in the private sector are added to the calculation. Besides, an increasing number of those in the companies are considering quitting their jobs to move to other sectors.
In addition, more and more engineers are going abroad. From 2015 to 2016, only one person did so from the three state-run enterprises. The number, however, rose to nine last year and is likely to be at least five this year. Their destinations include ENEC and Nawah in the UAE.
According to experts, the brain drain can block South Korea’s nuclear power plant exports although the government is claiming that Korea can win new nuclear power plant projects in spite of its nuclear phase-out policy. “Exports from the same industry of the United States and France have shown a drastic decline and this is because no more atomic power stations are built in these countries and they cannot provide post-construction management,” an expert pointed out, adding, “In the past, a lot of projects ended up in the hands of South Korea because of the presence of young engineers, but countries like China are likely to win more and more of them with time.”
Some are arguing the opposite though. “Given the current influence of American and French senior engineers in ENEC and Nawah, South Korean companies can benefit in future tenders if South Korean engineers move up to higher positions in foreign energy organizations,” one of them asserted.