At midnight last night, June 19, 2017, the Republic of Korea permanently shut down its first nuclear reactor Kori No.1.
It has been 40 years since 1977 when the reactor was constructed. Over the same period, the Kori No.1 Reactor has underpinned Korea’s economic growth. In 1978, the first year of its operation, the Reactor accounted for 9 percent of the country’s total power generation capacity. Afterward, with the increased number of nuclear power plants, it was possible to meet the demand for electricity that soared substantially in the course of economic development.
Kori No.1 will be remembered as part of the history of our economic progress. From the moment of groundbreaking in 1971 to today, the operation of Kori No.1 has been powered by the hard work and sweat of many people. Many of them may equate their youth or whole life with Kori No.1. In the process of decommissioning the Reactor, many will also toil hard.
I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the dedicated efforts of all involved. Especially, I am deeply grateful to those who have worked hard for the maintenance of Kori No.1.
The permanent shutdown of Kori No.1 is the first step on the path toward a nuclear-free country. It is a great transition to a safer Republic of Korea.
Marking today as a starting point, I hope we all will continue to build a new consensus on the national energy policy.
Until recently, Korea’s energy policy has pursued high efficiency at a low cost. A cheaper power generation price has been put before the lives and safety of the public. Considerations of a sustainable environment have been downplayed as well. Nuclear power generation was the choice of our energy policy at a time when Korea was developing and had to import most of its energy needs.
However, now is the time for a change. The economic level of the country has changed, and an awareness of the importance of the environment has been raised. An understanding that the lives and safety of the people are more important than anything else has been firmly established as a social consensus.
The national energy policy should also be in step with these changes. The direction is clear. All those factors that threaten the lives, safety and health of the people should be eliminated. We should seek out a sustainable environment and sustainable growth. I am certain that an era of clean energy, in which public safety is the top priority, is the goal that our energy policy should pursue.
The Gyeongju earthquake in September last year came as a great shock. Measured at a magnitude of 5.8, it was the strongest quake ever to hit the Korean Peninsula since the Korean Meteorological Administration began keeping records in 1978. Fortunately, there was no death, but the tremor injured 23 people and incurred a total of 11 billion won in property damage.
The aftershocks of the Gyeongju earthquake still continue to the present. Six days ago, a 2.1 magnitude aftershock occurred, and a total of 622 aftershocks have jolted the region in the nine months so far.
We have believed that the Republic of Korea is safe from earthquakes. But now, we have to accept that Korea is no longer an earthquake-free zone. We must face up to impending risks. A nuclear accident, particularly caused by an earthquake, is extremely devastating.
Japan was regarded as the most well-prepared country in the world against earthquakes. However, the accident in 2011 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant brought the death toll to 1,368 as of March 2016, and the recovery is projected to require an astronomical budget of 220 trillion won all told. Worse yet, it is impossible to even grasp the number of deaths or cancers caused by radioactive contamination. The Fukushima nuclear accident vividly illustrated that nuclear power plants are neither safe nor affordable nor environmentally friendly.
Since then, advanced Western countries have rapidly decreased the number of nuclear power plants, declaring a nuclear phase-out. On the contrary, Korea has continued to increase the number of nuclear power plants. As a result, Korea has become the country with the highest density of nuclear power plants in the world.
Korea ranks first not only in terms of the capacity of nuclear facilities per land area but also in terms of nuclear plants density and the number of people within a radius of 30 km. In particular, the Kori plant has a population of 3.82 million residents within 30 km, including 2.48 million in Busan, 1.03 million in Ulsan and 290,000 in Gyeongsangnam-do Province. The Wolseong plant is second with 1.3 million people.
At the time of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, the population within 30 km designated for mandatory evacuation was 170,000. However, the population density in Korea is more than 22 times that of Fukushima. It is very unlikely, but if a nuclear accident occurred in our country, it could result in damage beyond our imagination.
During the last presidential election, I promised to build a safe Republic of Korea. I made a promise to build a completely different Republic of Korea from the one before the Sewol ferry disaster. A safe Republic of Korea is a firm pledge I made with the student victims of the disaster.
My new Administration will take steps to secure the safety of nuclear power plants as a national security issue that can determine the fate of our country.
As President, I will be in charge of examining and taking care of related matters. The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission will be upgraded to a presidential commission to elevate its standing; in addition, its diversity, the degree to which it represents the nuclear policy of the Administration and its independence will be strengthened.
The nuclear power plant policy will be entirely re-evaluated. Departing from the power generation policy centered on nuclear power plants, we will move towards a nuclear-free era. The plans for the construction of new plants, which are now on the drawing board, will be annulled. The design life of nuclear power plants will not be extended. The Wolsong No.1 Reactor, which is in operation by life extension, will be shut down as soon as possible in consideration of the supply and demand of electricity. Extending the operation of a nuclear power plant whose design life expired is equivalent to operating the Sewol ferry by prolonging its usable age.
With regards to Shin Kori No. 5 and 6, which are under construction now, the Government will comprehensively take into consideration safety, the progress rate, input costs, costs concerning the contract termination and the electric power reserve ratio and create a social consensus within a short period of time.
The Government will also greatly enhance nuclear safety standards. Even if we start the phase-out of nuclear power plants now, it would take several decades more until the life of the currently operating nuclear power plants expires. Until then, public safety must be thoroughly guaranteed.
The seismic design of nuclear power plants in operation now has been reinforced in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident. I will check again whether the reinforcement is sufficient and related measures have been taken in an adequate manner.
The master in the nuclear power plant policy of my new Administration is the people. The Administration will greatly enhance transparency in the operation of nuclear power plants. There have so far been small and large accidents in the operation of the nuclear power plants, and even a blackout has occurred in which power to the reactor was shut off. However, the Administrations in the past sometimes failed to disclose them to the public properly. If anything related to the safety of the people takes place, my Administration would make it public in a transparent manner. This will become the basic principle of the nuclear power plant policy of the new Administration.
Regarding nuclear phase-out, there remain concerns in the industry about the demand and supply of electricity as well as electricity charges. Some people raise concerns about the immense cost for closures. However, the nuclear phase-out is a trend of the times that we cannot go against. It is a task that we have to commence right away for our descendants who will live on this land for tens of thousands of years.
As my nuclear phase-out policy is about gradually reducing the number of nuclear power plants over a long period of time, I believe our country can afford it. My Administration will strive to come up with a nuclear phase-out roadmap as early as possible that can reassure the public.
The new Administration will phase out nuclear energy and, at the same time, open a new era of future energy. It will actively nurture a clean and safe energy industry, including new and renewable energy and liquefied natural gas power generation. In connection with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, I will make sure that the energy industry will become a new growth engine for the Republic of Korea.
Now the world is waging an energy war. We should actively deal with abnormally high temperatures resulting from global warming and with the transformation in the international environment, including the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has announced its plan to reduce reliance on oil and created a sovereign wealth fund, putting efforts on developing new and renewable energy such as solar photovoltaic power. Apple started selling electricity generated from solar power, and it has been a long time since Google established Google Energy and entered the solar power business.
We should not fall behind the international trend. The operation rate of natural gas power facilities will be increased while the degree of nuclear power and coal-fired power generation will be decreased. The construction of new coal-fired power plants will be completely suspended. The 10 old coal-fired power plants will be shut down while I am in office. As a measure to reduce fine dust, eight aged coal-fired power plants, which had been running for over 30 years, were temporarily suspended on May 15. The first step to reducing coal-fired electricity generation has been taken.
Solar power and offshore wind power industries will be actively nurtured, and an energy ecosystem will be established in preparation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. An eco-friendly energy taxation system will be formulated in a rational way and the high energy consumption industrial structure will be changed to become more efficient. The rate for industrial use of electricity will be modified so that overconsumption of electricity in the industrial sector can be prevented. The switchover will be pursued in the mid- to long-term to prevent damage to industrial competitiveness while small and medium-sized enterprises will be given support.
The permanent shutdown of the Kori No.1 Reactor today is another opportunity for us. It is an opportunity to nurture a nuclear power plant decommissioning industry by building know-how on dismantling nuclear power plants.
Decommissioning a nuclear power plant is highly difficult work that requires advanced science and technology, much time and a high cost. With the trend of reducing reliance on nuclear power, there is a growing demand for the decommissioning of nuclear power plants around the world. However, countries that have experiences in dismantling nuclear power plants are only the United States, Japan and Germany so far. The level of Korea’s technological prowess in the area is at 80 percent of that of other developed countries, such as the United States, and now Korea has acquired 41 of 58 commercialized technologies needed for dismantling nuclear power plants.
We will make haste to acquire technologies needed for dismantling nuclear plants; research institutions will be set up in the southeastern part of the country and given full support. The Government will not spare any effort or support to make sure that the Republic of Korea will become a leading nation in the nuclear power plant decommissioning industry.
We are taking on a new challenge. We need to break with what is familiar and create something new. While protecting the lives and safety of the people, we need to maintain a stable supply of electricity. While reducing our dependence on coal-fired and nuclear power generation, we need to produce new and renewable energy that can replace them on time at a reasonable price.
A paradigm shift in national energy policy is never an easy thing to do. The Government, the private sector, industry and scientists in high technologies need to do it together. The public recognition of energy also needs to be changed. Along with the roadmap to reduce the dependence on coal-fired and nuclear power generation, an eco-friendly energy policy will be established.
There will be many difficulties ahead but it is clearly the way to go. We will move toward an era of healthy, safe and clean energy. We will build a safe Republic of Korea in which the lives and safety of the people are given the highest priority.
Thank you very much.