UPDATE : 2017.10.21 SAT 06:57
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S. Korea to complete energy transformation road map this year

South Korea will complete an energy road map that shifts its reliance from coal and nuclear power toward natural gas and renewable energy to put more focus on public safety and technology innovation, the government said Thursday.

"We will change the energy paradigm toward safe and clean future energy, reflecting global trends and public demand," Paik Un-gyu, minister of trade, industry and energy, said during a parliamentary audit. "We will gradually phase out the nuclear reactors and make coal-fired thermal power plants more eco-friendly."

Paik Un-gyu, Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, speaks during a parliamentary audit at the National Assembly on Oct. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea operates 24 nuclear reactors that generate about 30 percent of its electricity, while coal and renewable energy provide 37.5 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively, according to the ministry.

Since President Moon Jae-in took office in May, the plan to build six more nuclear reactors has been abandoned and construction of two reactors has been temporarily halted to gather public opinion. Its result will be announced on Oct. 20.

Paik said the new energy policy was designed to keep pace with the changing energy environment and growing safety concerns following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and the nation's largest-recorded earthquake in Gyeongju.

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Gyeongju, located 370 kilometers southeast of Seoul, where six reactors and a nuclear waste facility are located. The epicenter is also close to Ulsan, an industrial city with eight reactors.

"Nuclear scholars say an accident has a one in a million chance, but large accidents have already occurred three times with 448 nuclear reactors in the world," Paik said, noting the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and 1979 Three Mile Island incident in the U.S.

"It is hard to accept the safety data provided by nuclear scholars. We have to take all matters into consideration, including the equipment, location and the operator's capacity."

The ministry said the energy road map will raise the ratio of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2030 by increasing investment in research and development, and supporting related industries

For the goal, the road map will provide detailed plans on the location and accommodation for renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydro power plants.

Following the closure of the nation's oldest reactor, Kori No. 1, in May, the government will push for an early closure of Wolsong No. 1, now the nation's oldest reactor. The nation's 10 oldest reactors will be retired by 2030 as their operational life cycles expire one by one.

While permitting the ongoing construction of five coal plants, the ministry said it won't authorize new licenses and consult utility companies to turn their coal projects to natural liquefied gas stations.

The existing 39 coal power plants will be required to cut CO2 emissions by 40 percent in 2022 and 58 percent in 2030 to meet the national emission reduction goal.

Last year, South Korea set its national target for the Paris climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent from business-as-usual (BAU) levels by 2030.

Six coal power plants aged over 30 years will be shut down in the next five years, and they will temporarily cease operations in spring time, the ministry said.

Separate from the domestic energy policy, the government vowed active support for local industries' efforts to export indigenous designed nuclear reactors to maintain their decadeslong know-how and have a competitive edge in the global market.

"If (the export of nuclear technology) is beneficial for the national interest and its risk is managed, the government will roll up its sleeves to provide full support," he said.

Currently, the state-run Korea Electric Corp. and local construction companies have been actively trying to make inroads overseas, eyeing nuclear projects in Britain, Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic.

Despite the government's pledge, local industries have expressed concerns that the less investment in new nuclear technology could weaken their status in the global stage in the face of fierce competition from rivals.

Hwi Won  edt@koreapost.com

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