Jerng Dong-wook, Professor of School of Energy Systems Engineering, CAU
1. What do you think of the government’s nuclear phase-out policy?
First of all, we should look at the nuclear phase-out policy from the broad perspectives. In other words, we should treat this problem from the viewpoints of the national energy policy. People want a perfect energy and when we say ‘perfect energy’, it means an energy source that is benign to the environment, affordable to everyone, and available whenever it is needed. For the present, there are only three energy sources for electricity: thermal, nuclear, and renewable energy. Unfortunately, among these, there is no perfect energy right now. What is important here, therefore, is how we can bring about an optimum energy mix that maximizes benefits and minimizes side effects. The current government’s energy policy is just giving up one of the energy sources without considering these three aspects of energy. Thus, I'm afraid that there will be side effects if the current government’s energy policy is maintained.
2. Can you explain what level Korean nuclear power technology is at?
I would say that the nuclear power technology in our country is among the best in the world. We exported nuclear power plants to the United Arab Emirates by winning in competition with ‘Areva’ of France and ‘Westinghouse’ of America. This shows that our technology is proven. The safety of nuclear power in Korea is proven too. Many countries have sought approval regarding safety by Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), an independent agency of the United States, as the NRC is very highly regarded in nuclear safety verification. ‘Areva’ of France and ‘Mitsubishi’ of Japan have tried but they were not successful and gave up. APR1400, which is our own design and being built in the Shin-Kori site, was submitted to the NRC for safety review and we are expecting to obtain the design certification probably early next year. It will demonstrate our nuclear technology once more to the world.
3. Is there a renewable energy that can substitute nuclear energy in Korea?
There is a Chinese old saying, “If you plant a tangerine tree in the south, you will get tangerine, but if you plant it in the north, you get hardy orange instead of tangerine.” This means how important geographical nature is. Renewable energy is the ideal energy. However, geographical conditions are essential to tap into those energy sources. To utilize the sunlight, it requires a vast land with good insolation. For wind power, obviously, it depends a lot on the wind condition. Due to the geographical conditions of Korea, it is hard for me to think that renewable energy could be a major source of electricity.
Another weakness of renewable energy is that it can only be acquired intermittently. At night, there is no sunlight and in hot weather, there might not be any wind blowing. Therefore, renewable energy needs to be backed up by other energy sources. To make up this weak point, one might think of importing electricity. In case of Germany, which uses wind and sunlight as major energy sources, electricity can be imported from neighboring countries if not enough wind blows in a cloudy day. Korea, on the other hand, from the viewpoint of the electrical grid, is an island, meaning it is isolated from other major parts of the world. We have to be aware that there surely is a limitation in using renewable energy. Therefore, an energy mix must be considered in planning national energy systems to complement the weakness of one energy source with the merits of the other ones.
4. Is there something more you want to say about the issue?
I want to say one thing to students of our university. Energy issue is a very complicated issue that encompasses social, economic, technological, and even political aspects. There are controversies in not only nuclear but also in climate change, and more. I would like to urge university students, as future leaders of our society, to do an in-depth study and deliberation on the energy issues. Through this process, I believe that students can develop their own view on these issues. Relying on superficial information without independent investigation to make his or her own opinion is not what intellectuals are supposed to do. Since energy issues are never simple, students should study and think about what stance they will take for the growth of the society and themselves. As energy is the basis of everything to the human society, I wish students to give sincere attention to energy issues and study them hard.
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