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Simple solutions to a looming energy crisis

Find alternatives, ease consumption, charge industry more: job done

  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • November 13, 2012
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Problems with the nation’s aging nuclear reactors in recent years have fuelled concerns over potentially serious power shortages this winter season that could lead to nationwide blackouts. On no less than 14 occasions this year, nuclear reactors in the country have been forced to suspend operations for repairs. Over the past decade, they have closed 95 times. The country operates 23 reactors at four power plants in Kori, Uljin, Wolseong and Yeonggwang, but more are in the works. Wolseong’s No. 1 reactor – the second oldest in the country – will reach its 30-year life span on November 20. It has been shut down eight times over the last decade, four times this year alone. Meanwhile, seven of the 23 reactors are currently offline for regular safety checks or because of mechanical malfunctions. Three are expected to resume operations later this month, while the fate of the other four remains uncertain. According to government figures, 31.1 percent of the country’s electricity needs – about 500 million megawatts – came from nuclear power last year. In addition to concerns over the safety of nuclear power, recent problems with reactors have stoked fears over power shortages. “The possibility of blackouts cannot be ruled out” during the coming winter, Knowledge and Economy Minister Hong Suk-woo warned recently. These fears were further nourished by the recent and unexpected stoppage of two nuclear reactors in Younggwang because of faulty parts. “We are in a super-emergency situation,” Hong has said. In response, the government has announced it is exploring ways to secure additional electricity, one of which is borrowing four 150,000-kilowatt power generating vessels from Turkey. Despite what some have called a looming power crisis, the Catholic Church in Korea has called on the government to abandon nuclear power altogether. Advocates suggest a simple solution to power shortages: develop alternative energy and do a better job at conserving the energy the country already produces. They further point out that Korea has grown accustomed to excessive energy consumption and prefers to continue doing so instead of finding alternative sources and cutting back on usage. “We don’t need so much energy,” advocates say. This may be true, but it overlooks a pressing short-term concern: adequate power supplies during the winter months. Kim Ik-jung, a professor of medicine at Dongguk University, is among a group of experts who have offered more practical solutions. They say the government has overstated the gravity of the power problem and that the current shortage of power is the result of failed management of industrial power needs. More than half of the country’s electricity consumption is for industrial use. The government has supplied relatively cheap electricity to manufacturing companies while it is planning to raise household electricity charges, which amounts to just 14.6 percent of the total electricity consumption in Korea. As a result, manufacturers have been using more and more electricity, not trying to develop alternative energy, which has led to sharp increases in power consumption and created the current power shortage. Kim argues, therefore, that the government must raise industrial electric rates reasonably, not family ones, to solve the current power shortage problem. In short, the government has supplied cheap electricity to industrial circles for economic development, which increased local industry’s dependence on electricity and created the current problem. Raising industrial electric rates is also the first step toward a non-nuclear society because the sharp increase in industrial consumption has made the country more dependent on nuclear power. When the government takes strong action against industrial electricity consumption, people will voluntarily join in energy saving campaigns, which the Church has long lobbied for. Stephen Hong is a journalist based in Seoul Related reports Church voices anger at nuclear plan Oldest reactor ‘must close permanently’

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