South Korea opposition party vows to stop new nuclear plants

The leader of the main South Korean opposition party pledged on Monday to scale back ambitious plans to build more nuclear power plants if it wins elections this year, saying Japan’s Fukushima crisis had sent mankind a “shocking warning”.

Opinion polls show the opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) leading the ruling conservatives in next month’s parliamentary elections, while the race for the presidency in December is seen as wide open.

“The Fukushima accident was a final shocking warning to the human race about how problematic nuclear energy could be,” DUP chairwoman Han Myeong-sook told reporters.

On Sunday, Japan marked one year since an earthquake and tsunami killed thousands and set off a radiation crisis at the Fukushima power plant, the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago.

“The DUP will stop adding nuclear power plants, and will gradually close down existing ones. The nation should invest in renewable and alternative energy which could bring a lot of jobs and develop new technologies.”

Resources-starved South Korea has become increasingly reliant on nuclear power to feed its export-driven economy, which has largely shrugged off the global financial crisis.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy currently operates 21 reactors which meet one-third of its energy needs, and plans to add 13 more by 2024.

Experts doubt that South Korea will follow the example of some European states which scrapped nuclear power after massive protests following the Fukushima disaster.

Seoul is also seeking to develop the industry as export earner, after a South Korean consortium won a $20 billion deal to build reactors for the United Arab Emirates in 2009.

Turkey and some other nations have been in talks with South Korea, or showed some interests in its nuclear plants, Minister of Knowledge Economy Hong Suk-woo said last week.

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