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Nuclear Energy’s Staying Power in South Korea

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The Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan triggered a debate in the 2017 South Korean presidential election over the country’s reliance on nuclear energy. After winning the election, President Moon Jae-in affirmed his government’s goal to decrease nuclear energy’s contribution to total national electricity generation by halting plans for new reactors and eventually phasing nuclear energy out entirely. At the same time, the government increased its emphasis on expanding nuclear technology exports. These seemingly opposed policies have raised questions about the long-term viability of the once-burgeoning Korean nuclear industry as well as the economic and social costs of a nuclear drawdown. Nuclear power will likely contribute to the country’s electricity generation for the foreseeable future on account of the industry’s characteristics—the relative youth of the reactor fleet, the costs of early decommissioning, and the lack of alternatives in electricity generation, among others—and the political and economic tradeoffs that a significant drawdown would entail.

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