June 19 (UPI) -- South Korea's nuclear power could dwindle rapidly in the years ahead if steps are taken to implement recently elected President Moon Jae-in's call to dismantle older nuclear reactors.
"So far, South Korea's energy policy pursued cheap prices and efficiency," Moon said at an event marking the shutdown of Kori-1, South Korea's oldest nuclear plant. "Cheap production prices were considered the priority while the public's life and safety took a back seat. But it's time for a change."
The shutdown of Kori-1 is estimated to cost $567 million, South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported Monday.
Changes will not only mean the decommissioning of older reactors but also the suspension of work on new reactors.
"We will abolish our nuclear-centered energy policy and move toward a nuclear-free era. We will completely scrap construction plans for new nuclear reactors that are currently under way," the South Korean leader said, adding the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan has "clearly proved that nuclear reactors are neither safe, economical nor environmentally friendly."
The changes can only happen gradually.
Even the decommissioning and "immediate dismantlement" of Kori-1 is to take place across a time span of 15 years, according to Segye Ilbo.
Nuclear power plants that are dismantled gradually can take up to 60 years. Decisions on future plant shutdowns are to be made on a case-by-case basis.
The announcement from Moon could generate controversy in South Korea, where opinion is divided over nuclear power generation.
The conservative administrations of former presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye both pushed for nuclear reactors.
Park wanted to increase the number of reactors to 36 by 2029, according to The Guardian.
The shutdown of Kori-1 is estimated to cost more than $500 million, and the construction of dry cask storage at the site, which will contain spent fuel that that has already been cooled, could anger local residents, according to Segye Ilbo.
Actual dismantlement will not take place until 2022, the report states.