As debate goes on about whether Thailand should have its first nuclear power plant, Korea Electricity Power Corporation (Kepco) warns that any such development will need close cooperation and concerted efforts among all stakeholders.
“Should Thailand need to diversify the [energy] sector to nuclear power, all agencies related to electricity development in the private and state sectors should closely work together on the sustainable development,” said Na Sang Nam, general director of Kepco. “From South Korea’s experience, nuclear power development has taken more than 14 years to make people confident in nuclear (power plant) safety.”
South Korea’s state-owned utility company itself also encountered strong protests from local people and the media even before construction started.
South Korea was the second country in Asia after Japan to build nuclear power plants. Construction of the first unit began in 1971, when the oil crisis hit. Operations began in 1978 with output of only 587 megawatts.
The total generating capacity of Korea’s nuclear power plants is now 18,500 MW from 21 reactors. It represents 29.5% of the country’s total power generation capacity and 45% of total power consumption.
Asia’s fifth largest economy will continue to expand nuclear power generation to keep pace with the increasing demand for electricity, with the goal of increasing nuclear’s share to 56% of total power generation. Eleven more reactors are scheduled to come onstream from 2010 to 2021, adding 15,200 MW in total.
South Korea is also seeking to export its nuclear technology, with a goal of exporting 80 reactors by 2030. As of 2010, Korean companies reached agreements to build a research reactor in Jordan, and four APR-1400 (Korea’s advanced power) reactors in the United Arab Emirates. They are also pursuing opportunities in Turkey and Indonesia, as well as in India and China.
In December 2010, Malaysia expressed interest in procuring South Korea’s nuclear reactor technology.
“The first priority is how serious the government is in the project’s implementation and continuity,” said Mr Na. “The development should not falter because of the changes of government.”
With limited supplies of fossil fuels, South Korea underwent a transitional period when it learned to count on nuclear power.
Kepco was the sole power utility in South Korea from 1961 to 2001. After it was split into multiple companies, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power inherited the nuclear business.
“Definitely, it (nuclear) is dangerous. But if we manage it properly with maximum safety standards, what we fear will never transpire,” said Mr Na. “We have to make people confident of the safety standards, as we have achieved in aircraft and cars which could also cause deaths if we use them carelessly and improperly.”
Mr Na says authorities need to inform the public seriously and continuously that the time is ripe for change because energy sources are limited.
Since the first unit started operation in South Korea in 1978, no serious accident has been reported.
Nonetheless, the failure at the Fukujima nuclear plant in Japan in May caused panic among more than 6,000 villagers living in the area and concerns about nuclear safety worldwide.
Mr Na said the incident also prompted Kepco to beef up preventive measures and disseminate more information to the people.
Imported coal currently accounts for 43% of all fuels used in power generation in South Korea, followed by nuclear (34%), gas (18%) and oil 3%.
Renewable energy was planned to double to 5% at the end of this year from 2.4% currently and to 10% in 2022.
Thawat Vajanapornsithi, deputy governor of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), said Thailand also needs to diversify the fuels used in electricity production into imported coal and nuclear for sustainable development and energy security.
For more than a decade, Thailand has tried to diversify away from natural gas to imported coal and nuclear. Gas now makes up 72% of the fuel for the country’s total electricity generation.
However, non-government organisations and environmental activists have called on the government to scrap the nuclear project in favour of more renewable energy and to better manage the demand side. “If we continue using gas in electricity production and delay alternative choices (coal and nuclear), it will cost the country dearly because we have to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) of which price doubles that of domestic gas [due to a subsidy],” said Mr Thawat.
Thailand in May decided to delay the 5,000-MW nuclear programme by another three years to 2023 after the devastating earthquake caused radioactive leaks at nuclear power plants in affected areas in Japan.
Thailand started a nuclear project in 1966. It was approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1970. Ao Phai in Chon Buri was selected as the site for a plant and in 1973 a uranium purchase contract was prepared. The project was shelved in 1978 after natural gas was found in the Gulf of Thailand.