South Korea set to abandon nuclear power programme

Our Kim In-kyung has more.

South Korea, one of the world's largest nuclear electricity producers, will scrap plans to add nuclear power plants and also not seek to extend the lifespan of existing plants as it seeks to phase out nuclear power, its new President Moon Jae-in said today. He also said the shutdown of Kori-1 can be seen as another opportunity for Korea, since disassembling a nuclear reactor is not only a matter of time but also incredible skill. The president stressed that the government's energy policies in the future should focus on boosting public safety, environmental protection and sustainable growth. Last year, a third of electricity in South Korea was produced from nuclear power plants.

The president had already ordered eight of the country's coal power plants to cease production soon after taking office on 10 May, following the impeachment of his predecessor, Park Geun-hye.

"I will scrap all preparations to build new reactors now under way and will not extend the lifespan of current reactors", said Mr Moon.

The country's second-oldest reactor, Wolsong 1, will be shut down as soon as possible, he said, taking into consideration the power supply and demand situation.

The Kori-1, South Korea's first and oldest commercial reactor that went into operation in 1978, was shut down as of midnight on that day.

"The nuclear-centered energy policy will be abolished and Korea will move toward a nuclear-free era", he said.

Concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants due to earthquakes was one reason for the phase-out policy, Moon said. Nuclear safety reemerged as a major issue for the public after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan in 2011, caused by an quake and tsunami.

The new government plans to increase the use of renewables to 20 per cent of the country's total power generation by 2030. Even if South Korea starts the phase-out now, it will take several decades until the currently operating fleet of reactors reach the end of their operation, Moon noted.

The president also promised to reduce coal power stations.

"South Korea is not safe from the risk of natural disaster, and a nuclear accident caused by a quake can have such a devastating impact", he said.

To decommission the Kori 1 reactor, South Korea plans to invest developing its own decommissioning technology and experts in the area. South Korea is also searching for answers on how and where to store spent nuclear fuels permanently.