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South Korea considers cut in nuclear power

South Korea is looking to cut its reliance on nuclear power to 29 percent of the country’s total power supply by 2035, the least amount of reduction recommended by a group urging the government to cut dependence on nuclear-fired generators.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy has been under pressure to cut nuclear power use due to a scandal that started late last year and shut some reactors that had received replacement parts with fake safety certificates.

The energy ministry said in a statement unveiling the draft of its policy revision that nuclear power still has a role to play in South Korea and that it would not be drastically slashing or expanding capacity.

South Korea is considering decreasing its reliance on nuclear power to 29 percent, down from a planned 41 percent by 2030, the energy ministry said on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s ministry statement did not specify how many nuclear reactors South Korea would need by 2035, and ministry officials declined to comment on it.

“If the government is going to keep its nuclear power proportion at 29 percent by 2035 … we would need an additional six to eight nuclear power plants,” Roh Dong-seok, research fellow at state-funded Korea Energy Economics Institute, told Reuters by phone.

New units would be needed to account for demand growth and to replace older units.

“The exact number of the units would be decided by how many of the existing nuclear reactors can operate by then,” Roh said.

South Korea has 23 nuclear reactors, which now produce about a third of its electricity.

A study group advised the government in October that Seoul should reduce its reliance on nuclear power to 22 to 29 percent of power supply in view of public anger with corruption in the industry and heightened worries about safety as Japan struggles to clean up after the Fukushima disaster.

Kim Jun-dong, deputy minister of energy & resources policy, told last month’s congressional public hearing that South Korea has to decide at “a high level” if in the ranges recommended for nuclear power it is possible to reduce carbon emissions and ensure stable power supply.

The Korean government aims to finalise its energy policy revision by the end of this year, incorporating suggestions that may come out of a public hearing on Wednesday.

Five of South Korea’s reactors remain offline, including three shut since late May to replace control cables originally supplied with false documentation.

A fourth is awaiting an extension of its licence after its 30-year lifespan expired in November last year; a fifth is shut by scheduled maintenance extended to mid-January to repair cracks found on the reactor head.

The total number of closures may rise to six as reactor operator Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, owned by state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), plans to go ahead with maintenance for another reactor scheduled for Dec. 12 through Jan. 19.

Any shift away from nuclear-fired power could South Korea cost tens of billions of dollars a year by boosting imports of liquefied natural gas, oil or coal.

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