Through the efforts of a single international environmental organisation committed to evidence rather than fear, the opportunistic political movement to turn away from nuclear energy in South Korea has been derailed.
Construction of the modern reactor units 5 and 6 at the Shin Kori complex will now proceed, better late than never. When completed early next decade, the APR-1400 reactors will generate an average twenty billion kilowatt hours of climate-friendly electricity every year.
Twenty billion kWh needs some context. In 2016, all the wind power capacity in Australia built in more than 15 years supplied nearly 13 billion kWh, 5% of national demand. Shin Kori 5 & 6 will take five years to build and supply 50% more.
Neither “takes too long” nor “it’s too expensive” are applicable objections to South Korean nuclear energy, as comprehensive research by Lovering, Nordhaus and Yip demonstrated. Even on foreign soil, the massive capacity of this standardised reactor design can be added rapidly, affordably, and safely.
This speed and cost shows that nuclear energy isn’t intrinsically expensive at all. Something else is clearly at play in other countries.
Undoubtedly the activist groups, who have directed startling amounts of effort and funding against South Korea’s successful nuclear sector, would instead focus on their issues with nuclear waste — the discrete, contained used fuel regularly removed from nuclear power stations (rather than carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides and other pollutants expelled to our atmosphere from alternative sources).
Except that South Korean scientists are working steadily on the next generation nuclear technology which will recycle the long-lived elements out of used fuel, eventually leaving an even tinier amount of far more benign waste. This is the melt-down-proof technology demonstrated last century which is more carbon-free than anything we use today — ostensibly just what nuclear energy’s critics have always demanded.
Rapid, affordable, and apparently popular, with a closed fuel cycle on the horizon to responsibly dispose of its waste streams. That’s nuclear energy in Korea. Its opponents will be back. They won’t give up. But they don’t have facts, numbers and arguments, only hate, fear and theatre. They are powerful tools, and fortunately, with dedicated work by true environmentalists, knowledge and hope overcame them this time.