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Japan Aiming to Take Lead in Nuclear Power Industry
Korean Students Shun Nuclear Engineering
Japan Aiming to Take Lead in Nuclear Power Industry
  • By Michael Herh
  • June 11, 2019, 09:02
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Takahama Nuclear Power Plant Unit 4, located in Fukui, Japan, was put back into operation on May 17.

The Japanese government is trying to increase the number of nuclear engineers working for Japanese companies as the nuclear power industry of Japan is going through a crisis triggered by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the companies’ slump in overseas markets.

Hitachi was planning to build two nuclear power plants in Anglesey, Wales via Horizon Nuclear Power it took over in 2012. However, the Japanese company canceled the plan in January this year after failed intergovernmental and inter-company negotiations. Toshiba recorded more than 600 billion yen in losses in selling its subsidiary Westinghouse and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries gave up on nuclear power plant construction in Turkey. Under the circumstances, the number of those seeking a job in the industry has plummeted.

The Japanese government is planning to raise the ratio of nuclear power to all energy sources to at least 20 percent by 2030. More nuclear engineers are essential to that end.

The same is occurring in South Korea. More and more students have shunned the nuclear power industry since the South Korean government’s nuclear-free declaration two years ago. At 18 colleges and universities nationwide, the number of nuclear engineering majors dropping out of their studies increased from 39 to 56 from 2016 to 2018. The number amounted to eight in 2018 at Seoul National University alone. Besides, the employment rate of the school’s nuclear engineering graduates dropped from 51.7 percent to 32.2 percent from 2017 to 2018. The rate fell 10 percent to 18 percent at the other schools including Hanyang University, Kyung Hee University and Jeju National University. At the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), where sophomores choose a major, only four and no one chose nuclear engineering in the first and second semesters of last year, respectively. The number used to reach 20 in the past.

Last year, no one applied for Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at Pusan National University and Sejong University. At the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), the numbers of nuclear engineering Ph.D. applicants and students fell 8.3 percent and 12.1 percent from a year ago to 122 and 58, respectively. At the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST), the numbers fell 15.7 percent to 134 and 2.1 percent to 47.

In the South Korean nuclear power industry, the number of those who voluntarily left Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, KEPCO E&C and Korea Plant Service & Engineering as three state-run nuclear power companies jumped from 78 to 121 from 2015 to 2017 and then to 144 last year. At Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, which manufactures equipment for use in nuclear power plants, more than 80 nuclear engineers quit in 2017 and 2018.

At present, the size of the global nuclear power plant construction market is estimated at 500 trillion won and that of the global nuclear decommissioning market is estimated at 20 trillion won. With the South Korean government concentrating on the latter instead of the former, experts point out that it will repeat Japan’s mistake without a change in policy.