Japan, South Korea Stick to Nuclear Ambitions

Japan and South Korea, countries that depended heavily on nuclear power before the Fukushima catastrophe in 2011 (Figure 3), separately released draft long-term energy plans in December, both placing renewed emphasis on nuclear.

3. Cleaning up. Three years after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) continues clean up efforts at the stricken nuclear plant. In November, TEPCO began moving nuclear fuel assemblies from Reactor Unit 4 to the Common Spent Fuel Pool (shown here). Courtesy: Greg Webb/IAEA

As it redrafted its energy plan, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry underscored nuclear’s importance as a “base-load power source that serves as a foundation” for the stability of the resource-poor island nation’s energy supply. The draft also calls for the reactivation of all the country’s 50 reactors that are shut pending safety reviews by the Nuclear Regulation Authority—but it stops short of endorsing construction of new nuclear plants or replacing old ones with new ones.

The ministry stated that electricity prices have soared because the country has been forced to import fuel for thermal power generation to offset the loss of nuclear power. The higher power rates have caused companies to transfer production overseas or suffer tremendous losses, it said.

No dates have been set to restart the reactors, and the country’s 10 utilities have significantly increased their use of coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG imports jumped to¥6 trillion ($57 billion) in 2012—nearly double the¥3.5 trillion spent on LNG imports in 2010.

The revised draft will be presented to a team tasked with revising the 2010 Basic Energy Plan, which had called to increase nuclear’s share of total capacity to 41% by 2019.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s crippling electricity shortfall, which stemmed from a documentation scandal that led to the closure of several nuclear units, was alleviated this January. Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) approved restart of operations at Shin Kori Units 1 and 2 and Shin Wolsong Unit 1—OPR-1000 reactors that only began commercial operation between February 2011 and July 2012. A draft of the country’s next long-term energy plan suggests, meanwhile, that the country will temper plans for a massive nuclear expansion.

The documentation scandal and subsequent power crunch began in November 2012, after authorities initiated an investigation into faked certificates for small components at five nuclear plants. Two units, Yonggwang 5 and 6 (since renamed Hanbit 5 and 6), were taken offline to have the parts replaced. In April 2013, the NSSC ordered Shin Kori Units 1 and 2 (Figure 4) and Shin Wolsong Units 1 and 2 to halt operations while authorities investigated faked safety certificates for cabling. Startup of the newly built Shin Wolsong 2 continues to be delayed as the reactor has its cabling replaced. In October 2013, authorities indicted 100 people for corruption in the scandal, including a top former state utility official, and the country has been struggling to restore public confidence in nuclear power.

4. A revival. In May 2013, South Korean authorities halted operations at four recently completed nuclear units after discovering that safety-related control cabling with falsified documentation had been installed at Shin Kori Units 1 and 2 (shown here) and Shin Wolsong Units 1 and 2. Regulators approved restart of the first three units in December 2013; Shin Wolsong Unit 2 is still awaiting approval to start commercial operation. Courtesy: KEPCO

The government of the resource-poor country had banked on a nuclear-heavy energy future, calling for nuclear plants to supply 59% of the country’s power by 2030—up from the current 25%—a plan that called for the addition of 24 GWe of nuclear capacity. But a draft proposal submitted to parliament by the energy ministry in December would raise nuclear reliance to only 29% by 2035. That was still the higher end of a range recommended by an energy task force in October, the ministry pointed out. A future with at least that much nuclear power was critical both for energy security reasons and to reduce carbon emissions, it said.

The proposed goal will require South Korea to add 45 reactors to its existing fleet of 23 (11 are in the pipeline) within the next two decades. The draft proposal also foresees that electricity consumption will double by 2035, though the government has set a goal to reduce demand by at least 15%, which may be achieved by further price hikes. Starting in July, South Korea will lower consumption taxes on LNG but raise taxes on coal generation. The energy basic plan will, meanwhile, be finalized after public hearings and further discussion with related government agencies. For more on South Korea’s energy troubles, see “South Korea Walks an Energy Tightrope” in POWER’s November 2013 issue.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)