News / Asia

Stung by Scandal, S. Korea Weighs Costs of Curbing Nuclear Power

FILE - An employee of the Korea Power Exchange, a state company to check the country's flow of electricity, watches a huge screen monitoring power supply during power outages in Seoul, September 15, 2011.
FILE - An employee of the Korea Power Exchange, a state company to check the country's flow of electricity, watches a huge screen monitoring power supply during power outages in Seoul, September 15, 2011.
Reuters
It started with a few bogus safety certificates for cables shutting a handful of South Korean nuclear reactors. Now, the scandal has snowballed, with 100 people indicted and Seoul under pressure to rethink its reliance on nuclear power.
 
A shift away from nuclear, which generates a third of South Korea's electricity, could cost tens of billions of dollars a year by boosting imports of liquefied natural gas, oil or coal.
 
Although helping calm safety concerns, it would also push the government into a politically sensitive debate over whether state utilities could pass on sharply higher power bills to households and companies.
 
Gas, which makes up half of South Korea's energy bill while accounting for only a fifth of its power, would likely be the main substitute for nuclear, as it is considered cleaner than coal and plants can be built more easily near cities.
 
“If the proportion of nuclear power is cut, other fuel-based power generation has to be raised. If we use LNG, the cost will definitely go up,” said Hwang Woo-hyun, vice president of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO).
 
KEPCO owns Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co Ltd, which operates the county's nuclear reactors, and also has a quarter stake in Korea Gas Corp (KOGAS), the world's largest corporate buyer of LNG.
 
The extra cost to Asia's fourth-largest economy of importing more LNG to replace nuclear could be approaching $20 billion per year by 2035, according to Reuters calculations based on government projections for power capacity growth and South Korea's average LNG prices for last year.
 
South Korea could need as much as 25 million extra tons by 2035 if a proposal to reduce nuclear's share of its energy mix is drafted into power policy.
 
The cost projection could be conservative if rising demand from South Korea fuels further price rises in LNG. Top LNG importer Japan is also buying more gas than ever as it compensates for its own nuclear shutdown in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
 
Offline, Reduction Recommended
 
Three of South Korea's 23 reactors are offline due to the fake safety certificates, while another will be shut on Oct. 30 to examine welding quality related to the safety of a steam generator.
 
Two others are also out for regular maintenance and a sixth one is shut, awaiting an extension of its 30-year life span. Of six reactors under construction, three have been delayed from start-up, also because of safety issues.
 
Authorities have indicted 100 people, including a former top state utility official, for corruption after the discovery of the fake safety certificates.
 
The chaos in the industry comes as a government working group recommended on Oct. 13 a cut in South Korea's reliance on nuclear power, pointing to a drop in public confidence in safety that has been exacerbated by Japan's Fukushima disaster.
 
The study recommended nuclear power capacity be kept between 22 and 29 percent of the total by 2035, well below existing plans to grow the sector to 41 percent in less than 20 years.
 
The government will hold public hearings to decide whether to back the recommendation before finalizing its energy policy in December.
 
As of 2012, nuclear accounted for 26 percent of total generating capacity, according to energy ministry data, though it typically accounts for about a third of power generation, while only making up about 3-4 percent of energy costs.
 
Coal made up about 31 percent and LNG 26 percent of the country's total power generation capacity last year.
 
Fuel costs for power at the end of August, were 48 won ($0.05) per kilowatt-hour (kwh) for nuclear, 64 won/kwh for coal, 166 won/kwh for LNG and 226 won/kwh for oil, according to KEPCO.
 
Cost Dilemma
 
Gas demand by South Korea has already been rising to make up for its nuclear power shortfall.
 
South Korea's LNG imports rose 12 percent from a year ago to 29.5 million tons in the first nine months of this year. Last year it imported 36.3 million tons of LNG.
 
Shares of KOGAS hit their highest in more than five months at 66,700 won on Oct. 16, reflecting expectations of higher gas demand if the recommendation for less nuclear power is taken up.
 
Plugging the nuclear shortfall with imports of fossil fuels could raise local electricity fares up to five-fold by 2030, according to local media.
 
The energy ministry has ruled out large electricity tariff hikes, however, saying low-cost nuclear generation will continue to contribute a large portion of total power supply even with a drop in its share of the capacity mix.
 
South Korea's utilities, meanwhile, are banking on consumers using less electricity if prices rise and on what they hope will be cheaper North American gas supplies later this decade.
 
A KEPCO official who asked not to be identified said the firm expected to receive cheap shale gas from 2017.
 
Before then, however, fuel costs could rise if nuclear power is replaced with higher cost fuels like gas, he said.

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More