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South Korea Shakes Up Energy Industry with Stunning Reversal on Nuclear Phase-out

South Korea's reliance on nuclear power has been a long-standing controversial issue due to past safety concerns and growing public demand for renewable energy sources.

The Story

In a shocking move, South Korea has taken a step back from its plan to phase out nuclear power generation, citing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The country's new energy policy aims to build two new nuclear reactors, Shin-Hanul Unit-3 and Unit-4, and boost nuclear power's contribution to electricity generation to at least 30% by 2030. The reversal of the previous administration's intentions to phase out commercial nuclear power has sparked controversy and debate about the feasibility and safety of nuclear power.

The goal of Moon Jae-nuclear in's phaseout plans was to reduce the number of active reactors to 17 by 2034 by suspending facility development and retiring older facilities. However, this move by President Moon was criticized domestically. By contrast, Yoon Suk-yeol, has been bullish on the need for South Korea to embrace nuclear energy. EU’s inclusion of nuclear power in its “green taxonomy” gave a specific impetus for the President to adopt such a policy. Mr. Yoon had also said the building nuclear power plants is a global trend and that it is essential to the reduction of carbon and energy security.

Dive Into History

For years, nuclear power has been a contentious topic in South Korea. Despite the government's ambitious target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, there is a growing demand for renewable energy sources due to safety concerns and the country's reliance on nuclear power.

However, the South Korean government recently announced a new energy strategy to replace the previous administration's nuclear phaseout plan. The new strategy aims to increase the share of nuclear energy in the country's electricity generation to 30%, up from the current 27.4%.

According to the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy, the new strategy takes into account a number of evolving variables, including energy security, the situation in the Russian-Ukrainian region, and supply chain instability worldwide.

Currently, South Korea has the greatest nuclear reactor density in the world, with the majority of the 24 nuclear reactors housed in two complexes in the nation's industrial south-east. While critics have voiced their concerns, the government aims to maintain existing reactors for as long as permitted by law to ensure energy security.

Despite the controversy surrounding nuclear power, the government's decision to increase the share of nuclear energy in the country's electricity generation highlights the complex challenges of transitioning to renewable energy sources. As the global community works to combat climate change, countries must balance their energy needs with the growing demand for renewable energy, and South Korea's new energy strategy is a reflection of this balancing act.

What Does The Data Say

Data from the International Atomic Energy Agency show that in 2021, the 25 commercial nuclear facilities in South Korea produced roughly 27% of the nation's power. The 25 reactors of South Korea, which have a combined plant generating capacity of 23 GWe, according to the World Nuclear Association, supply the country with its power. The primary fuel used to generate power is still coal.

The energy-intensive heavy industrial sector in South Korea, which primarily produces equipment, ships, vehicles, trucks, textiles, steel, and petrochemicals, is what drives the country's power usage, according to the US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration. In 2019, industries accounted for around 54 percent of power usage, followed by businesses in the commercial and service sectors at 26 %, households at 14 %, and other industries including transportation and agriculture at 7 %. South Korea, which prioritises exports, was the ninth-largest energy user in the world in 2020.

According to Business Korea, the government would establish task groups in 10 to 15 embassies worldwide this year to aid South Korean nuclear power plant developers in securing international contracts. The task forces are expected to be located, among other places, in the Czech Republic, Poland, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Slovenia. In order to create the next generation of compact modular reactors with an eye on exports, the government has also stated that it intends to spend $320 million over the following six years. Power generating capacity for the SMR will be limited to 300 MW or less. A number of South Korean heavy industry companies have commercial agreements with American SMR developers that might result in cooperation in this sector.


According to a statement released on July 7th by the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy, South Korea's exports of nuclear power plants are anticipated to rise as a result of the inclusion of nuclear energy in the EU taxonomy. The vote of the European Parliament implies that funding will be made easier for EU members like the Czech Republic and Poland that intend to develop nuclear power facilities. State-owned Korea Hydro Nuclear Power (KHNP), based in South Korea, declared that it is willing to invest up to 49 percent of its shares in Poland's nuclear power programme. In May of last year, KHNP made Poland an offer to build six of its 8.4 GW APR-1400 pressurised water reactors (PWRs), with the first reactor expected to start up in 2033.


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Authored by Shuchi Shukla, a final year research student at Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, MAHE. Her area of interest lies in the geopolitics of renewable energy and energy transition, health diplomacy in the Global south.

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