A Peek At South Korea's Alternative Energy Source


Bernama, 31st December 2007

By Rosyatimah Tukimin

SEOUL, Dec 31 (Bernama) -- Like the drama, "Winter Sonata", which is a love story that became such a big hit when it was shown in Malaysia and many other Asean countries in the not too distant past, South Korea might soon see its technological feats in alternative energy joining the "Hallyu" (Korean Wave -- the term used to describe the phenomenon of Korean popular culture that is spreading across the world) now that its expertise in the latter has already been sought by such countries as the Philippines, India and China.

With fluctuating world fuel prices, global warming and climate change becoming even more serious issues in recent years, and which have inevitably caused some nations scurrying for solutions to the problems, a visit programme arranged for journalists from the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) to South Korea early this month could not have come at a more opportune time.

Bracing the cold weather, with temperature sometimes at minus 5 degrees as the winter season was about to begin, the journalists visited, among others, a nuclear power plant in Uljin city and a hydro-power plant in Daejeon -- some of the successful efforts carried out by the South Korean government in providing alternative and sustainable use of energy.

"I know many Asean countries are working hard to find alternative energy and I hope your visit to the energy-related places in this country could give you and your countries some ideas on what needs to be done," said Lee Sang-Pal, Director of Nature Policy Division, Nature Conservation Bureau, South Korea's Ministry of Environment.

Lee made the statement at the Gwacheon Government Complex near here after addressing the visiting journalists, who were participants of the "Exchange Visit of ASEAN and Republic of Korea (RoK) Media People" programme from December 2 to December 8.

Thirty-two journalists from the 10 Asean nations were involved in the visit. With this year's programme themed "Conservation and Sustainable Use of Energy in ASEAN and Korea" the organisers hoped to share their knowledge in conservation work as well as viable projects related to the sustainable use of energy.


Lee said: "Korea puts urgent priority on natural resources. We started developing policies on environment protection since the 1960s. After going through trial and error we now have various policies and legislations that have contributed towards conservation, an example of which is the designation of national parks, and sustainable use of energy."

When asked on the public's reactions towards the government's efforts in these aspects, he said: "Of course we encountered a lot of protests during the initial stage of implementation of policies and projects."

"However, we managed to overcome the problem through education and by involving the local residents as well in the environmental management." Nuclear activities in South Korea were said to be initiated when the country became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957.

In 1958 the Atomic Energy Law was passed and in 1959 the office of Atomic Energy was established by the South Korean government.

The country's first nuclear reactor was a small research unit realised in 1962. Ten years later construction began for the first nuclear power plant, Kori-1.

It started in 1977 and achieved commercial operation in 1978. After this there was a burst of activity, with eight reactors under construction in the early 1980's. South Korea, through its Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. Ltd (KHNP), the largest domestic power generation company providing 40 percent of the total domestic electricity supply, currently has 20 nuclear power reactors.


"We will soon have 28 units of nuclear power (reactors). It is hoped that in the year 2020, about 45 per cent of energy supply in South Korea is to be generated from nuclear power," said Jung Jae Woo, manager of the Ulchin Nuclear Power Site 1 at Uljin city, adding that the construction of the reactors had been approved by the IAEA, which conducts regular checks and monitoring.

With power demand in South Korea reportedly increased by more than nine per cent per year since 1990 and that the country needs to import some 97 per cent of its energy requirements, the move towards technology-driven nuclear and hydro power emerged as a good choice or the most realistic alternative for the nation, especially in the present scenario of soaring world oil prices and that the country does not have petroleum reserves of its own.

South Korean energy policy has been driven by considerations of energy security and the need to minimise dependence on imports, said Jung.

He said that locations for the nuclear power plants were carefully selected, basically by the seaside, for easier storing of low-to-medium level radioactive waste in specially-constructed disposal facilities. Not many communities welcome a nuclear power plant in their backyard and South Koreans are no exception.


"We are still facing resistance but we spend lots of money organising programmes for the local communities. We also invite them to briefings so they can voice their opinions and suggestions," Jung said, adding that apart from being environment-friendly, since it does not emit carbon dioxide, nuclear power generation is cheaper as it costs about US3.8 cents per kilowatt (kWh) compared to US110 cents using fossil fuel and that nuclear power has 0.05 shutdown occurrence.

He said the earlier commercial nuclear units were bought as turnkey projects but today, "95 percent of nuclear power technology are efforts of the South Koreans."

The journalists were given a tour inside one of the reactors at the Ulchin Nuclear Power plant, a site that was previously a fishermen's village. Inside each reactor there are many vertical steel pipes of varying sizes with concrete walls covering all around pipes and the top part of the structure, thus from the outside the reactor is actually a giant drum-like concrete structure with a dome-shape top.

Jung said that the company's concerted effort has helped to build a consensus with the local residents and the good news was that "some other residents had also asked us to build nuclear generator in their areas."

The visit to a hydro-power plant managed by Korea Water Resources Corporation (K-Water), on the other hand, provided the visitors an insight into South Korea's state-of-the-art satellite-based technologies and integrated water management systems.


For more efficient management of water resources and the provision of stable water supplies, waterworks facilities are controlled and operated using systems remotely controlled from K-Water's central office using only the click of a mouse.

The visitors were shown the various operating sections of the dam before being surprised with a very long journey uphill inside the tunnel leading to the top of the dam's plane, that offers spectacular view of the whole dam and its surrounding.

Almost everyone in the group needed to catch their breath along the way but it was worth the exercise. K-Water has constructed 15 multi-purpose dams and the Nakdong River Estuary Barrage since the 1960s.

It supplies about 11 billion tonnes of water annually. K-Water has also created water-friendly zones near dams for leisure and cultural activities. The visit to the sites of alternative "Clean & Green Energy" sources were certainly very informative.

Obviously, South Korea has done well in turning the country which completely lacks natural resources but, instead is rich in human resource known for their technological expertise, into a respected nation that is self-reliant.


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