South Korea, one of the world's largest nuclear electricity producers, will scrap plans to add nuclear power plants and also not seek to extend the lifespan of existing plants as it seeks to phase out nuclear power, its new President Moon Jae-in said today.
He also vowed to cut South Korea's reliance on coal. South Korea will shut 10 old coal power plants and stop building more coal power plants.
Moon campaigned on a programme of cutting South Korea's traditional reliance on coal and nuclear for the bulk of its power, but has not previously commented on the commitment to end nuclear power since being elected in early May.
"So far, South Korea's energy policy pursued cheap prices and efficiency. Cheap production prices were considered the priority while the public's life and safety took a backseat," Moon said at a ceremony marking the shutdown of the country's oldest power plant, Kori 1, in Busan, home to South Korea's largest cluster of nuclear power plants.
"But it's time for a change."
"We will end the nuclear-oriented power generation plan and pave the way for a nuclear-free era," Moon said. "We will withdraw existing plans to build new nuclear power plants and not extend the lifespan of nuclear power plants."
South Korea's oldest nuclear reactor Kori No.1 was permanently shut down at midnight on Sunday after reaching the end of its 40-year-lifespan, the first South Korean nuclear power plants to be closed permanently.
South Korea has 25 nuclear reactors, supplying about a third of the country's total electricity. During his campaign, Moon vowed to review plans to add new eight nuclear reactors, including the part-completed Shin Kori No 5 and Kori No 6.
Moon said he will soon reach a consensus on the Shin Kori No 5 and Shin Kori No 6 reactors after fully considering their construction costs, safety and the potential costs of paying compensation.
He also said the government will seek to shut down the country's second-oldest nuclear reactor, the Wolsong No 1, as soon as possible depending on the country's power supply conditions.
Since the Kori 1 reactor went online in 1978, the resource poor-country added 24 nuclear power plants to meet rising demand for electricity from rapid industrialization and economic development. Last year, a third of electricity in South Korea was produced from nuclear power plants. Its nuclear power production from 25 nuclear plants in 2016 was the fifth-largest in the world, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Public support for nuclear power has been undermined by a local scandal in 2010 over forged certificates for spare parts and the 2011 Fukushima meltdown in neighbouring Japan.
The new government plans to increase the use of renewables to 20 per cent of the country's total power generation by 2030.
South Korea is also one of the few countries that have exported its nuclear reactor technology, an area once seen by some of its construction companies as a new cash cow. Former President Lee Myung-bak promoted nuclear energy as part of its clean energy strategy and helped local companies win billions dollars of deals to build a nuclear reactor in United Arab Emirates.
Recent earthquakes in southeastern South Korea also dented public support in the country that was long believed to be safe from earthquakes. South Korea is also searching for answers on how and where to store spent nuclear fuels permanently.
To decommission the Kori 1 reactor, South Korea plans to invest developing its own decommissioning technology and experts in the area. The decommissioning will take at least 15 years and cost 643.7 billion won ($569 million), the energy ministry said.