Kori 1 and 2, above, in Busan are among 23 nuclear reactors in operation, from which Korea gets about 30 percent of its power. Five more reactors are under construction. / Yonhap
All major candidates vow to stop building new reactors
By Jung Min-ho
The future of nuclear energy looks bleak in Korea for whoever becomes the next president.
All major candidates have vowed to stop building new nuclear reactors and close down older ones in an effort to reduce the country's dependence on nuclear energy.
Left-leaning Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) candidate Moon Jae-in, the frontrunner in the race, promised to cancel construction plans for two additional nuclear reactors ― Shin Kori 5 and 6. He believes Korea will have to phase out all of its remaining nuclear power plants over the next 40 years.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party, the runner-up, also made the same promises, though he did not mention specifically by when he plans to remove all nuclear reactors.
Korea has 23 nuclear reactors in operation, from which it gets about 30 percent of its power. Five more reactors are under construction.
Sim Sang-jeung of the minor Justice Party is taking the strongest stance against nuclear energy. She said she will immediately close down all the reactors under construction and rid the country of nuclear reactors by 2040.
The two right-wing candidates ― Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party and Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party ― are more cautious about the idea of removing all the nuclear reactors, but still, they are not far apart on the issue compared to other candidates.
Four of the candidates have also vowed to reduce the country's dependence on coal power plants as well to resolve the issue of fine dust, which has become worse in recent years. Hong alone remains skeptical of doing so, but he said he will regulate their operations more strictly instead.
The biggest problem of fine dust, Moon noted, is the fact that so much about it is unclear, including what exactly causes it and how harmful is it to humans. So he said he wants to do more research through a presidential body, which will also lead related ministries in solving the problem.
Ahn wants to include fine dust as a national disaster by revising laws so the government can provide more systematic support for those who suffer from it.
Given that China is believed to be responsible for at least part of Korea's fine dust issue, Ahn said he will also do more research to present more objective data before negotiating with China to tackle the problem together.
Meanwhile, all the candidates vowed to increase investment into developing renewable energy sources. The two leading candidates said they will initiate the project to increase the country's reliance on renewable energy to 20 percent by 2030.
"Compared with the previous presidential election, candidates have taken more progressive approaches over the issue," said Kim Mi-kyung, a climate change activist at the environmental group Greenpeace. "We expect Korea to follow the global trends of nuclear-free, coal-free and more renewable energy."
But the activist noted the candidates lack details on how they will cope with energy shortage issues as they reduce the number of nuclear and coal power plants.