South Korea survey backs restarting construction of 2 nuclear reactors

The Shin Kori No. 4 reactor of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) is seen in Ulsan.
The Shin Kori No. 4 reactor of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) is seen in Ulsan. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS) - A South Korean government-organised committee is recommending that Seoul resume the stalled construction of two nuclear reactors after an opinion survey found nearly 60 per cent of respondents were in favour of building the power plants.

The two projects were halted in late June after the government said it would let South Koreans give their opinions on energy policy direction amid public concern over atomic safety. The suspension was one of President Moon Jae In’s key campaign pledges to allay public worry over nuclear power.

The suspension was also in line with the new government’s plan to shift away from coal and nuclear power towards greater use of natural gas and renewables to generate electricity.

“Our final public opinion survey showed 59.5 per cent of (responding) South Koreans chose to resume the construction,”Kim Ji Hyung, chairman of the committee, told a news conference on Friday. Stability of power supply was cited as a prime reason for the choice in survey responses, the committee said.

“Our recommendation to the government is restarting construction,” Kim said.

The committee conducted four rounds of surveys including phone interviews of 20,006 people, and public discussions involving some 470 citizens over the past three months.

The survey results had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 per cent.

The two 1,400-megawatt (MW) reactors – Shin Kori No.5 and Shin Kori No.6 – were originally to be built by March 2021 and March 2022, respectively, in the southeastern city of Ulsan.

Completion dates for the two nuclear plants are now set for October 2021 and October 2022, according to state-run nuclear operator Korea Hydro & NuclearPower (KHNP) website.

South Korea’s presidential office said on Friday (Oct 20) it respected the results of the public opinion survey and would pursue future steps without delay.

Shares of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (Kepco) rose 5.6 per cent following the announcement. Kepco Engineering & Construction, which is in charge of the nuclear reactors’ design, surged as much as 20 per cent, and Kepco Plant Service & Engineering gained as much as 10 percent.

LITTLE ROOM FOR GAS POWER

Building nuclear power stations takes years, sometimes decades, so the decision in favour of the two new reactors will not change South Korea’s immediate fuel demand patterns.

But the surprise vote does impact the long-term outlook for the country’s fuel consumption. The biggest impact will likely fall on imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), of which  South Korea is the world’s second-largest buyer.

Should the equivalent of 2,400 MW of natural gas-fired power generation be replaced by these two nuclear power stations that would reduce LNG’s share of South Korea’s power generation mix by about 12 per cent.

But while the government will still pursue scaling back nuclear power overall, said Yoo Seung Hoon, energy policy professor at Seoul National University of Science & Technology,“as these two reactors have a total capacity of 2.8 gigawatts, that will leave little room for gas-fired power plants.”