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

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.