South Korea Relies on Nuclear Power for 30% of its Energy

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard South Korea Country Manager Jitae Chang

Figure 1. Energy Sources of South Korea


South Korea relies on nuclear power for 30% of its energy. Five nuclear power plants and twenty-four nuclear reactors are available and at this moment, seventeen are on line, with the other seven reactors are undergoing preventive maintenance. These reactors make up a total of 23,250 MW of South Korea’s nuclear power generation capacity and currently generate around a constant 17,600 MWe.

Table 1. Current Status of Nuclear Power Plants in South Korea

No Nuclear Plant Commercial Operation Capacity


1 Kori Jul 1983 ~

Aug 2019

4,550 Kori 1 (Apr 1978);


2 Hanbit Aug 1986 ~

Dec 2002

3 Hanul Sep 1988 ~

Apr 2005

4 Wolsung Jul 1997 ~

Jul 2015

4,100 Wolsung 1 (Apr 1983); Decommissioned
5 Saeul Dec 2016 ~

Aug 2019

Total 23,250 5,600 MW will be added during the next five years.


Given the normal forty-year lifecycle of a nuclear power plant (Safe and effective nuclear power plant life cycle management toward decommissioning, IAEA, August 2002), South Korea is maintaining a certain level of nuclear power generators by decommissioning old ones and building new ones to make up the difference.

“An anti-nuclear policy was one of the key campaign pledges of President Moon. About a month after his inauguration in 2017, Moon announced that Korea would halt plans to build new nuclear power plants and would not extend the lifespans of existing ones” (The Korea Times). The pledge was intended to reduce nuclear dependence from 30% to 18%, increase LNG from 20% to 37%, and increase renewable energy from 5% to 20% by 2030.

The pledge immediately faced strong opposition, even from within the same ruling party. Eleven engineering departments of Seoul National University released an announcement proclaiming the anti-nuclear policy as not appropriate for South Korea’s situation and seriously lacking scientific foundation. A number of energy experts in South Korea expressed the same opinion.

National security experts also expressed their concern. Theoretically, South Korea is on a peninsula, but practically, it is an island whose energy security and independence are critically important. Additionally, the nuclear power plants have been a basis for South Korean industry for nearly a half century. Their role has been critical during the same period as the economic growth of South Korea.

The South Korean government tried to convince people by pointing to models from Germany and other anti-nuclear counties, but this plan backfired. The debate is ongoing, and it seems obvious that this will be one of the biggest issues in the next presidential election.

Figure 2. R&R of Safety Management


South Korea’s safety is guided by three acts: the Act on the Establishment and Operation of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission; the Nuclear Safety Act; and the Act on the Information Release of Nuclear Safety. These acts control the safety of nuclear power operation, and the last one strongly enforces the transparency to public and external inspectors, such as IAEA or WANO. The radioactive waste is under MTIE responsibility following a dedicated act, the Radioactive Waste Management Act.

Under these acts the South Korean government must present the overall safety requirements and guidelines of its nuclear power plant operation. Regulatory agencies such as NSSC and KINS perform safety management activities.

Everyone knows the dark side of nuclear power. As a citizen, I know that it is pure luck that South Korea has not had any radioactive incidents significant enough to harm people or even be officially recorded. Nevertheless, each country has its own circumstances. In the case of South Korea, regardless of whether or not we like it, a base of nuclear power is essential. It is risky, but we have no other options.



  • KPX, Korea Power Exchange


  • KHNP, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., Ltd.


  • The Korea Times


  • Democratic Party of Korea


  • IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency


  • MITE, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Energy


  • NSSC, Nuclear Safety and Security Commission


  • KINS, Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety


  • WANO, World Association of Nuclear Operators



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