(Korea Herald EDITORIAL June 10)

Silence dissent
Moon administration’s failure to phase out nuclear sparks new dispute over ignoring warnings

President Yoon Suk-yeol has officially reversed the nuclear exit policy of his predecessor, former President Moon Jae-in, in a bid to resolve the controversy closely linked to electricity tariffs. Unfortunately, the dispute resurfaced.

Shortly after the launch of the Moon administration in 2017, the National Planning Committee was drawing up major policy plans, one of which was to phase out the country’s nuclear power plants.

The plan itself was fraught with uncertainty and risk, given that South Korea operates two dozen nuclear reactors, with their combined share of electricity generation amounting to around 30%.

At the time, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy submitted two reports to the National Planning Committee, claiming that a nuclear phase-out would lead to a 40% increase in electricity tariffs in by 2030, according to a local media report. .

In detail, the ministry’s reports predicted that the country’s total electricity bills would climb to more than 75 trillion won ($60 billion) in 2030 from 55 trillion won in 2016. They said between 2018 and 2030, the total additional electricity charges incurred will reach the colossal sum of 140 trillion won.

Members of the National Planning Committee reportedly ignored these warnings, expressing their dissatisfaction with the reports, which were an important dissenting voice to be taken seriously.

After silencing an objective projection within the government, the Moon administration pushed for the nuclear phase-out plan aggressively, as if shutting down nuclear power plants and forcing companies to use renewable energy would solve the fundamental energy problem in its drive towards carbon neutrality.

As critics had predicted, the nuclear phase-out plan did not work and the result was the need to dramatically increase electricity charges to cover Korea Electric Power Corp’s snowballing losses. , or Kepco, the state-run electricity company.

After all, the South Korean energy industry relies heavily on nuclear energy, the cost competitiveness of which remains far superior to that of renewable sources such as solar and wind power.

The efficiency and economic scale of renewables and related technologies are improving, but the pace of progress is too slow to justify a massive shift from nuclear to renewables.

The Moon administration not only ignored the apparent flaws highlighted by the two Commerce Ministry reports, but also artificially rejected Kepco’s much-needed power rate hike demands to cover up the brewing problem.

The timing couldn’t be worse. As global energy prices continued to rise, Kepco’s balance sheet deteriorated. Its cumulative debt jumped 34 trillion won under the Moon administration. In the first quarter of this year, Kepco’s loss amounted to 7.8 trillion won, spooking domestic and foreign investors.

As the need to raise electricity tariffs was put on the back burner, Moon promoted his clean energy policy, pledging to cut Korea’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2018 levels by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The goal was ambitious, but the methods Moon said he would deploy were flimsy at best and totally unrealistic at worst. He hatched a plan to create a hydrogen economy, even as he shut down nuclear power plants, which could be optimized to produce hydrogen.

The Moon administration also claimed that it would get enough electricity by importing it from China and Russia, which was another unrealistic plan.

The dispute over the deliberate decision to silence a dissenting voice should be seen as a bitter lesson for President Yoon Suk-yeol and policymakers in the current administration to ponder in order to avoid repeating the same policy mistakes.
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