New energy minister vows to push with nuclear-free energy plan

SEJONG-- South Korea's new energy minister said Monday that he will push forward with the Moon Jae-in government's plans to do away with nuclear and coal-fired power plants and replace them with clean, renewable energy.

"It is the right time to ride the global trend of nuclear and coal-free energy," Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Paik Un-gyu said in an inauguration speech. "It must be advantageous for us in terms of industrial competitiveness and a stable energy supply."

President Moon, who took office in May, has stressed that his government will reduce its reliance on fossil fuel and nuclear power plants and expand the use of green energy like solar and wind power.

As part of his energy plan, one nuclear power plant, which was built in the late 1970s, was permanently shut down, with construction of two new nuclear facilities temporarily suspended.

Paik, who has expert knowledge in energy engineering, is regarded as the most qualified person to spearhead the president's push to expand renewable energy.

But the official said he will take the due process of listening to different voices in mapping out detailed plans on energy policies.

"The government will focus on reaching social consensus after having a series of discussions and hearings with experts and the public," said Paik.

Moreover, he said he is not in a hurry to complete the government's nuclear-free energy plan in the near future, citing that the latest atomic plant, the Shin-Hanul 2, will start commercial operation in 2019, with its operational life span set at 60 years.

"We have 62 years until the Shin-Hanul 2 reaches the end of its life cycle, if we build no more new nuclear plants," he said. "We will carry out the nuclear-zero policy on a gradual, evolutionary basis."

The minister also said he will do his best to carry out the upcoming renegotiation on the revision of the Seoul-Washington free trade agreement (FTA), which took effect in 2012.

"We are reviewing all aspects and mapping out scenarios in every case," he said. "A free trade deal has a great impact on the industry. We plan to thoroughly prepare for talks with the U.S."

Earlier this month, the U.S. Trade Representative called on its South Korean counterpart to convene a special joint committee to discuss the amendment and modification of the Korea-U.S. FTA.

The pact has widely been considered a symbol of the economic alliance between the two countries, but Trump blamed it for being a key cause of job losses and other economic problems in the world's largest economy.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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