July 19, 2005
South Korea Sees Bigger Role For Nuclear Power

A South Korean government official says South Korea's reliance on nuclear power is slated to increase substantially.

About 60 percent of South Korea’s energy is expected to come from nuclear power stations in three decades, a drastic rise from its current level of 40 percent.

The Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) said yesterday it predicts the nation’s dependency on nuclear power will soar thanks to the next-generation nuclear facilities under construction.

``If we cannot find a new energy source to replace today’s fossil fuels, we have no choice but to raise our reliance on nuclear power,’’ MOST director general Kim Young-shik said.

My guess is that 40% of South Korea's electricity, not of its total energy comes from nuclear power. The article probably got it wrong (perhaps due to a translation error).

The South Koreans are a smart bunch of people and they are betting on nuclear power. They already get a lot of power from nuclear reactors and also are actively engaged in 4th generation nuclear reactor research and fusion reactor research.

I agree with those who suspect the Saudis are greatly exaggerating their oil reserves. A recent president of Aramco disputes the official Saudi Arabian line on the expandability of Saudi production. I strongly suspect the oil era does not have many decades left to run (and the global warming debate is based on a big false assumption about oil reserves). I write about energy policy because I see energy as a big problem we need to solve sooner, not later.

Nuclear power is expected to maintain its same percentage of total power as the total consumption of energy grows.

Worldwide, there are 440 nuclear power plants, and 24 more are under construction, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

New nuclear stations and an extended life for existing ones will offset the closure of aging plants to keep the share of nuclear energy in the global power capacity mix at 12 percent in a decade, according to estimates from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The two wild cards in my opinion: a decline in Saudi oil production and breakthroughs in solar photovoltaics production costs.

Two thirds of recent nuclear plant completions have been in Asia.

Most reactor building is in countries that are new to nuclear power. There are 25 reactors under construction in 10 countries, according to the World Nuclear Association, an industry group, and another 112 are planned or proposed.

Interest is keenest among expanding Asian economies. Of the last 30 nuclear reactors to have connected to the power grid, 20 have been in Asia. India, where nuclear power accounts for 2.8% of electricity production, has nine reactors under construction. It wants to boost the amount of electricity generated by nuclear plants by 100 times by the middle of the century.

Nuclear power's biggest growth region is East Asia.

The authority idled the reactor in northern Alabama in 1985 because its physical layout didn't match architectural drawings. Restarting Browns Ferry 1 will cost about US$1.8 billion. New plants may be built within six years, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, said in April.

Nuclear plants may contribute about 200 gigawatts of the 4,800 gigawatts of new capacity needed until 2030, according to the IEA. European countries will add more than 40 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2030, the IEA said.

Nuclear capacity will increase in Asia to 8 percent of the region's total in 10 years, from 5 percent now. China, the world's second-largest electricity consumer after the US, plans to add about 30 gigawatts of nuclear generation by 2030, while Russia could add another 22 gigawatts. Korea may add 17 gigawatts and Japan about 14 gigawatts, according to the IEA.

Note above the absolutely huge growth in total electric generation capacity forecast in the next 25 years. My guess is that oil will stay expensive and perhaps rise further. This will shift demand away from oil toward natural gas and that will keep natural gas expensive. So nuclear will compete with coal and wind and in the longer term with solar. But wind may win out in areas which ban nuclear and coal power plants.

A study by the UK's Royal Academy of Engineering last year showed that one unit of gas generation costs four cents per megawatt-hour, compared with 4.3 cents for a nuclear plant, 4.7 cents for a coal-fired plant and 6.7 cents at a wind park.

Total costs of producing nuclear power, including construction and decommissioning, are likely to be US$46 per megawatt-hour in 2010, less than the US$50.80 for a gas-fired station and the US$54.39 for a coal-fired plant, a study published in March by UBS AG said. The calculation assumes oil prices fall to US$32.50 a barrel, after 2007. If oil prices slid below US$28, nuclear wouldn't be competitive against gas, UBS said.

If coal plant operators were forced to reduce emissions now then my guess is coal would cost at least as much as wind power and perhaps more. Though emissions control technology advances in the future will reduce the cost of emissions reduction I still expect coal emissions reduction to remain fairly expensive. So far in the United States the coal burners have managed to delay tougher regulatory standards on emissions. But I expect the American public to attach increasing importance to cleaner environments. As living standards rise people place greater value on esthetic and health considerations. So coal plant lobbyists are eventually going to lose against public opinion.

My guess is that nuclear power in East Asia is going play out in a manner similar to the French pattern. The East Asia peoples won't take environmentalist objections seriously and instead will see nuclear as the cleanest, most reliable, and cost effective alternative to fossil fuels. The future of nuclear power in the United States is less clear. While some environmentalists are having second thoughts about their opposition so far coal looks set to meet the bulk of future growth in US demand with wind and nuclear playing smaller roles. At some point the price of photovoltaics will plunge and solar power may become the biggest energy providers. But until then nuclear looks like the most cost effective cleaner alternative to coal.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 July 19 06:52 PM  Energy Policy

AA2 said at July 19, 2005 11:02 PM:

Nuclear power imo is definately the solution. I just wish we could deregulate the market and get private companies building and maintaining these plants. As right now most of the costs with nuclear power are meeting pointless regulations. And in addition huge uncertainty over what they will be allowed to charge for power, what it will cost to meet future regulations and lawsuits etc..

Private companies in a densley populated place like northeast Asia, would build huge clusteres of identical nuke plants. With interchangeable parts, and centralized computers running them. I'd also let them desalianate water and sell it into the cities, you could make those desalianation plants right inside the huge complex where the nuke plants are.

What we see is the government fiddling around with specially designed plants, far apart from each other, with special parts. And needing the entire maintenance, operation, security and repair staff for each one.

spudentity said at July 20, 2005 1:22 PM:


Is there anything other than economics stopping private companies from building nuke plants offshore? i.e outside regulated areas? Could the power be transmitted on underwater high voltage lines, say to NYC? LA?

Just a hypothetical now, but if a synthetic auto fuel (hydrogen, zinc metal, etc) ever becomes a reality, offshore plants could produce fuel and sell it anywhere.

Brock said at July 20, 2005 2:44 PM:


Efficient power transmission would definately herald the era of "regulatory competition" in the energy sector, where different nations would try to make their regulations as power-producing friendly as possible to attract the business. Right now the largest barriers to investment are indeed political/ NIMBY, but if you could ever find a way to send power from China to the USA as easily as industrial output is sent by super-tanker, watch out.

Oddly enough, efficient transmission would just solidify the Arab Middle East and Northern Africa as energy exporters, seeing as how much solar energy they receive. Alaska would also remain an exporter, though of wind, not oil.

I think Randall has some posts about advances in superconducter and carbon-nanotube quantum-based powerlines. I know I've seen that somewhere. Either of those would do it, if it could be done efficiently. The undersea cables could be dropped right next to the optical ones.

AA2 said at July 20, 2005 5:33 PM:

Good points, competition between states is a big incentive to make reasonable regulations. One thing that I'm surprised about is that we don't see more nations in Europe doing that. As I understand their energy prices are almost absurdly expensive. It would seem if even one nation could break away and just pound in 'super-clusters' of power plants, they could have one heck of a market.

On the synthetic fuel the closest I can think of is refining coal to be oil. I imagine cheap energy is really important to being able to lowering the price of the fuel.

AA2 said at July 20, 2005 5:38 PM:

I'd be interested to hear about the better conducting power lines, that is something I hadn't thought of for encouraging the competition and cross border electricity trade.

One other thing I am hoping for is that nations will come to realize that having a cheaper supply of energy then their competitors is a big advantage. For so many businesses energy is a large cost.

Eunice said at July 21, 2005 8:47 AM:

I had a question if using electricity in Sotuh korea is expensive? My uncle wont let me use it unless its very expensive since its very expensive. Is this true he says its cheap in america but in korea its really expensive?

Joseph said at July 21, 2005 11:42 AM:

Really S. Korea has few options for power. Land is at a premium and weather conditions are not ideal for PV or wind farms (this is assuming they become practical) also coastal areas are heavily used for transport and fishing, offshore wind farms are not viable even assuming a wind tower that can survive major gales can be built. For main baseload power the options are very limited.

AA2 said at July 22, 2005 1:56 AM:

I don't really understand why energy would be expensive in South Korea. I would think with its densely populated metropolitan areas, and big generation that the cost of electricity would be low. Think about how cheap it is to put in wiring for a bunch of apartment buildings, as opposed to a spread out suburbia. And then the maintenance is equally cheaper.

It might be now that I think about it that they are still paying off capital for a lot of their infrastructure, since it is fairly new. Whereas here in North America many of the plants are paid off.

The number one issue with nuclear power to me is getting it extremely cheap to build massive amounts.

Paul Dietz said at December 21, 2005 1:28 PM:

and the global warming debate is based on a big false assumption about oil reserves

Since much of the CO2 is going to be coming from coal, do you mean that the global warming issue going to be even more acute if petroleum is replaced by coal-based synfuels?

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