By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Oct. 20 (Yonhap) — The validity of the earlier than scheduled decommissioning of the Wolsong-1 nuclear reactor has been a yearslong hot-button topic here as the Moon Jae-in administration has been preaching a gradual phaseout of nuclear power generation.
The country’s second-oldest reactor started its commercial operation in 1983 in Gyeongju, 371 kilometers southeast of Seoul, with a lifespan of 30 years. Under the Moon government’s new energy policy, the country’s oldest nuclear reactor, the Kori-1 reactor that kicked off its operation in 1978, was already retired in 2017.
The Wolsong-1 nuclear reactor with a generation capacity of 679,000 kilowatts accounts for about 0.6 percent of the country’s total electricity supply. It is a Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) heavy water reactor, and the country still has three more CANDU reactors at the Wolsong nuclear complex.
While the Wolsong-1 was originally scheduled to be retired in 2012, its operator, the state-run Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corp. (KHNP), spent 700 billion won (US$609 million) for repairs between 2009 and 2011 to extend its lifespan for another decade, allowing the reactor to run through 2022.
The plant was temporarily shut down on the original deadline in November 2012 before resuming its operation in June 2015, after the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission officially approved the extension of the lifespan.
But the yearslong debate over the closure started when the KHNP decided in 2018 to shut down the reactor earlier than scheduled, citing the reactor’s low economic value. Last December, the country’s nuclear watchdog also approved the KHNP’s decision.
The controversy over the early closure of the Wolsong-1 nuclear reactor boils down to whether the earlier-than-expected shut down of the nuclear reactor was politically motivated to give an impetus to the Moon administration’s nuclear phaseout scheme.
The KHNP claimed that maintaining the old reactor was a money-losing business given the high maintenance costs, but opponents argued that the earlier than scheduled decommissioning was designed to support the Moon government’s nuclear phaseout scheme.
President Moon, who took office in 2017, has been promoting a green energy policy that centers on sharply reducing the country’s dependence on nuclear and fossil fuels and instead increasing more sustainable energy resources such as solar and wind power.
Instead of immediately shutting down existing plants, the Moon administration opted to take more gradual measures by not approving the construction of new reactors, while avoiding extending the lifespans of existing ones.
While South Korea is expected to have 28 nuclear reactors by 2022, considering those already under construction, the number will gradually drop to 14 by 2038.
Under the country’s energy plan, nuclear energy currently accounts for around 30 percent of the country’s power generation. The government plans to lower the ratio to 23.9 percent by 2030 as well.
The proportion of renewable sources in the country’s power generation portfolio, on the other hand, will jump to 20 percent by 2030, reaching around 30-35 percent in 2040.