What is Korea’s Future Energy?

November 18, 2018 by Ye Eun Jeong


Even though South Korea is a top manufacturing country, South Korea cannot make electricity independently, and nuclear power plants are the only source for making energy inside the country without any importation. Thus, Korea’s high dependency on nuclear power plants is inevitable.

However, as Moon’s new government took power in 2017, Korea set an ambitious goal of making eco-friendly and safe future energy and planned to turn into Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and renewable energy instead of nuclear and coal power plants. Accordingly, the Korean government proclaimed that they would be decommissioning nuclear power plants and, moreover, even coal-power plants were included in the decommissioning list due to their increasing CO2 and fine dust in the air.

Now, we need to pose a fundamental question: is it really possible, or even plausible that Korea turns into LNG and renewable energy and stops using nuclear and coal power plants?

Firstly, we need to consider the problem of using LNG and renewable as replacements for nuclear and coal. The crux of the problem is the cost.  

The Energy Source

Selling price


99.4 Won/ Kwh

Nuclear power plant

68 Won/ Kwh

Coal-power plant

74 Won/Kwh

Solar power

250 Won/Kwh

(source: Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corporation)

Using LNG is expensive, and as for the renewables, Korea needs to make its own type of renewable energy. The typical renewable sources such as solar and wind are not suitable for the conditions in Korea, since its weather and limited territory are not optimal for use of these powers. Korea needs to find its own renewable energy source, such as hydrogen energy, but this would be too costly to implement as of now. In the end, if we do not use nuclear and coal, our bills for electricity will soar.

Therefore, it is impossible to decommission nuclear power and coal at the same time. Since LNG and renewables are too costly to fulfill the current demand for electricity, for a stable supply with the current electricity expenditure we have no choice but to use nuclear and coal. If we give up on nuclear power plants, the dependency on coal-power plants may increase, leading to serious greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbated fine dust in Korea.

Japan is a front-runner in terms of decommissioning nuclear power plants in Asia, but now faces the problems of soaring electric costs and a growing dependency on coal-power plants and in the end, they have decided to turn back to using nuclear-power plants. Despite the disaster Japan experienced because of nuclear power plants, the conditions of Japan and Korea are not suitable to easily give up on nuclear and coal power plants.

Korea cannot imitate European countries’ policies on decommission and the use of renewable energy. There is an integrated grid capable of replacing nuclear power plants in Europe, so if they cannot produce enough electricity within their nations, they can easily import electricity from neighboring countries through the grid. On the contrary, Korea must fulfill its domestic demand and supply inside the country. A stable and cheap electricity supply is crucial in Korea as it is manufacture-oriented country. If the cost of electricity rises, the burden would be heavy not only to households but to the whole economy.

For now, realistically, Korea would be better off focusing on how to improve safety and decrease fine dust and CO2 through retrofitting old nuclear and coal power plants. Korea should make a long-term plan for energy and take time to find a type of renewable energy that would work specifically for the country. Indeed, for the sake of sustainability, Korea should decrease the high dependency on nuclear and coal. However, the process of how Korea switches away from nuclear power and coal should be approached in a more realistic way than now and should be reconsidered.

The UIC Scribe was founded in 2006 as the official student-run newsmagazine of Underwood International College. It celebrates diversity of thinking, excellence in writing, and the freedom of self-expression.