Is Korea going nuclear?

Last month, a consortium of interests led by South Korea’s Korean Electric Power utility (KEPCO) won a $20 billion contract to build four nuclear power reactors in the United Arab Emirates. According to The Economist, cialis KEPCO could also earn another $20 billion to operate and maintain the new power plants for their sixty-year useful operating lives. There are 430 nuclear power plants operating in 31 countries worldwide. The energy from one pound of uranium is equivalent to 1.3 million pounds of coal energy. Nuclear power produces none of the greenhouse gases associated with global warming.

Western governments are concerned that most of the world’s oil and gas is in the hands of hostile or unreliable governments. Much of the nuclear industry’s raw material, uranium, is conveniently located in friendly places such as Australia and Canada. Simpler reactor designs cut maintenance and repair costs. Shut-downs are now far less frequent, so that a typical U.S. nuclear power plant operates 90% of the time, up from less than 50% in the 1970s. New “passive safety” features can shut a reactor down in an emergency without the need for human intervention. Technology has vastly improved nuclear power’s economics and safety since the accidents of Three Mile Island in the US and Chernobyl in the Ukraine of twenty and thirty years ago.

Korea’s KEPCO builds nuclear plants that are billions of dollars cheaper than their rivals such as GE, Hitachi and France’s Areva. Other Asian countries appear to be going nuclear as well — India, Jordan and Turkey are planning nuclear electricity expansions.

Sadly, the current U.S., E.U. and U.N. climate initiatives are more focused on carbon taxes to punish conventional coal-powered electricity plants than the next generation of clean nuclear power. Proposed carbon cap-and-trade programs will significantly inflate the production costs of conventional coal and oil-based power plants. Any such pricing of carbon emissions will cause a global re-structuring of public power facilities and a commensurate re-pricing in global energy markets. Western democracies need to step up nuclear power to replace their 19th Century power technologies.

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