July 5, 2017
Honorable President Moon Jae-in
The Blue House
Seoul, South Korea
Dear President Moon,
We are writing as scientists and conservationists to urge you to consider the climate and environmental impacts of a nuclear energy phase-out in South Korea.
Over the last 20 years, South Korea has earned a global reputation for its ability to build well-tested and cost-effective nuclear plants. South Korea is the only nation where the cost of nuclear plant construction has declined over time. And in United Arab Emirates, South Korean firm Kepco has proven it can build cost-effective nuclear power plants abroad just as it can at home.
There is a strong consensus among climate policy experts that an expansion of nuclear energy will be required to significantly reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, and dozens of climate scientists and energy experts have affirmed the importance of nuclear energy to climate mitigation.
South Korea’s nuclear industry is especially important given the financial failures of French nuclear giant Areva and Japanese-owned and U.S.-based Westinghouse. If South Korea withdraws from nuclear then only Russia and China would be in the global competition for new nuclear construction.
A phase-out of nuclear plants by South Korea domestically would profoundly undermine efforts by Kepco to compete for new nuclear construction contracts abroad. Buyer nations would rightly question why they should buy nuclear plants from a nation phasing out its nuclear. And a domestic nuclear phase-out would atrophy the workforces and supply chains needed for South Korea’s global construction efforts.
Solar and wind are not alternatives to nuclear. In 2016, solar and wind provided 1 and 0.35 percent of South Korea’s electricity, respectively. For South Korea to replace all of its nuclear plants with solar, it would need to build 4,400 solar farms the size of South Korea’s largest solar farm, SinAn, which would cover an area 5 times larger than Seoul. To do the same with wind would cover an area 14.5 times larger than Seoul.
The intermittent nature of solar and wind and the lack of inexpensive grid-scale storage require the continued operation of fossil fuel power plants. As a result, every time nuclear plants close they are replaced almost entirely by fossil fuels, which has resulted in higher emissions from Germany to California to Japan.
Given the intermittency of solar and wind and South Korea’s land scarcity, replacing the nation’s nuclear plants would require a significant increase in coal and/or natural gas, which would prevent South Korea from meeting its commitments under the Paris climate agreement, and would increase air pollution in Seoul.
The high cost of replacing closing nuclear plants would be better spent on technological innovation to make South Korean nuclear plants even safer and cheaper. Replacing nuclear with natural gas would require $23 billion as up-front investment in new plants, and $10 billion per year to pay for gas imports.
Instead of phasing out nuclear, we encourage you to lead an effort to both make nuclear even safer and more cost-economical than it already is through the development and demonstration of accident-tolerant fuels and new plant designs.
The planet needs a vibrant South Korean nuclear industry, and the South Korean nuclear industry needs you as a strong ally and champion. If South Korea withdraws from nuclear the world risks losing a valuable supplier of cheap and abundant energy needed to lift humankind out of poverty and solve the climate crisis.
We support the call by 240 South Korean professors and strongly encourage you to deliberate with a wide range of energy and environmental scientists and experts on these questions before making any final decisions.
We are grateful for your consideration of these ideas, and look forward to your response.
Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine "Hero of the Environment," President, Environmental Progress
James Hansen, Climate Scientist, Earth Institute, Columbia University
Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Pushker Kharecha, Columbia University, NASA
Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize recipient, author of Nuclear Renewal and The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Stewart Brand, Editor of the Whole Earth Catalog
Robert Coward, President, American Nuclear Society
Ben Heard, Executive Director, Bright New World
Andrew Klein, Immediate Past President, American Nuclear Society
Steve McCormick, Former CEO, The Nature Conservancy
Michelle Marvier, Professor, Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University
Richard Muller, Professor of Physics, UC Berkeley, Co-Founder, Berkeley Earth
Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden. Winner of the National Medal of Science, 2001
Paul Robbins, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Mark Lynas, author, Six Degrees
Chris Dickman, Conservation Scientist, University of Sydney
David Dudgeon, Chair of Ecology & Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, China
Erle C. Ellis, Ph.D, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland
Christopher Foreman, author of The Promise & Peril of Environmental Justice, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland
Norris McDonald, President, Environmental Hope and Justice
Nobuo Tanaka, Sasakawa Peace Foundation
Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World
Wolfgang Denk, European Director, Energy for Humanity
Kirsty Gogan, Executive Director, Energy for Humanity
Joshua S. Goldstein, Prof. Emeritus of International Relations, American University
Steven Hayward, Senior Resident Scholar, Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkeley
Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School
David Lea, Professor, Earth Science, University of California
Martin Lewis, Department of Geography, Stanford University
Elizabeth Muller, Founder and Executive Director, Berkeley Earth
Stephen Pinker, Cognitive Scientist, Harvard University
Samir Saran, Vice President, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, India
Jeff Terry, Professor of Physics, Illinois Institute of Technology
Barrett Walker, Alex C. Walker Foundation
Tom Wigley, Climate and Energy Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado