Thursday, April 21, 2011
Text Fwd: Kan's Hint at New Nuclear Plant Moratorium and the Choice Facing Korea
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan holds an emergency meeting to cope with the unparalleled earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Kan said recently that "As long as the safety of nuclear plants remains uncertain, we cannot continue as before with plans to build more." His statement is interpreted to mean that he will freeze the existing plans to build more nuclear power plants. File photo by Yonhap News/ Caption by Seol Wontai
Kan's Hint at New Nuclear Plant Moratorium and the Choice Facing Korea
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has hinted that his country may freeze plans to build more nuclear power plants. At a budget committee meeting in the Diet's upper house, Kan stated: "As long as the safety (of nuclear plants) remains uncertain, we cannot continue as before with plans to build more."
Kan's statement was not an official declaration of abandonment of plans to build more nuclear plants. Coming at a time, however, when the myth of safe nuclear power is in a state of utter collapse, his comments have drawn attention by referring to a major revision to Japan's nuclear power policy.
In the case of Japan, this is the natural direction to adopt. Japan is a typical nuclear dependent nation. It had planned to build at least 14 new reactors, in addition to the 54 that it currently possesses, by 2030, thereby increasing nuclear's share of the country's total power generation from 30% to 40%.
Now, however, with a nuclear disaster of a level equivalent to that of Chernobyl still in progress, we think that withdrawing this plan in its entirety is the right thing to do.
Kan said on the same day that this issue had to be re-examined from square one, but we believe that Japan needs to be even more positive and produce a "nuclear exit strategy." Japanese public opinion, too, is rapidly turning in this direction.
Korea must carefully read the message sent by such movements in Japan. South Korea's level of dependency on nuclear power, like that of Japan, is high. It has 21 nuclear power plant reactors, the fifth highest number in the world after the USA, France, Japan and Russia.
Last year, the South Korean government confirmed its fifth basic plan for electric supply and demand (2010-2024), which involves increasing the number of reactors to 35, thus raising nuclear's share of electricity generation from the current 23% to 48.5%.
In a 2008 national basic plan for energy, the government also stated that this share would be increased to 59% by 2030. The Fukushima nuclear accident, however, has given a clear and ample reason for this plan to be fundamentally reconsidered.
President Lee Myung-bak emphasizes that "Korean-style nuclear plants are the best in terms of safety and efficiency," but such optimistic arguments do not equate to safety. Japan's example illustrates this.
The timely shutdown incident that occurred last week at the No. 1 reactor of Korea's Kori Nuclear Power Plant, despite Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP)'s explanation that it was of negligible importance, exposed several problems.
KHNP is refusing opposition party demands to reveal data from safety inspections. The company says the incident was no more serious than a fuse box breakdown in a family home, but there is no way of knowing when things will be back to normal.
The Kyunghyang Daily News reporter visited Chernobyl recently on the 25th anniversary of the disaster. A technician in his 50s, who was deployed to sort out the situation at the time, told the reporter: "In view of Fukushima, scholars and governments must change their minds. Since Korea is an intelligent country, it will think of a wise way to do this."
There is no way of telling if his judgment was correct. What is clear is that nuclear power policies are matters of great national importance that go beyond the dimension of single governments. (Editorial, The Kyunghyang Daily News. April 20, 2011)