South Korea's High Cost of Nuclear Fear


By Michael Shellenberger, Mark Nelson, Madi Czerwinski, Michael Light, John Lindberg and Minshu Deng

Executive Summary

“The High Cost of Fear,” a new in-depth Environmental Progress report, uses publicly available data, the best-available peer-reviewed scientific research and simple methods to calculate economic and environmental impacts of a nuclear phase-out in South Korea. 

We find a nuclear phase-out would:

  • Cost at least $10 billion per year for additional natural gas purchases alone, the equivalent of 343,000 salaries of jobs paying South Korea’s per capita annual average salary of $29,125;
  • Almost all of the cost would be in the form of payments for fuel, thereby reducing South Korea’s trade surplus;
  • Require a significant increase in fossil fuel use given South Korea’s lack of renewable energy resources;
  • Increase premature deaths from air pollution by replacing nuclear plants instead of coal plants with natural gas;
  • Damage and perhaps destroy South Korea’s lucrative nuclear export business;
  • If measured against the average U.S. car mileage, it would increase carbon emissions the equivalent of adding 15 - 27 million cars to the road, an amount that would prevent South Korea from achieving its Paris climate commitments.

"High Cost" also examines the historical and sociological drivers of the proposed nuclear phase-out and finds:

  • Anti-nuclear misinformation stems from well-funded foreign organizations, particularly Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which oppose cheap and abundant energy;
  • Arrogance and fear of public panic by the nuclear industry were primary causes of the Fukushima accident and its aftermath;
  • Anti-nuclear attitudes and concerns are reflected in a lack of South Korean trust in industry and government, as well as a lack of understanding of nuclear and radiation;
  • Anti-nuclear advocates used Fukushima to exaggerate the seriousness of South Korea's 2014 paperwork falsification scandal, which demonstrated the independence of South Korea’s regulator, as well as the 2016 earthquake, which was 350,000 times less powerful than the 2011 earthquake that resulted in the tsunami and meltdowns.  

“High Cost” points to the following lessons to be learned from the backlash to nuclear in South Korea and other nations:

  • No nation — even energy-poor ones, like South Korea and France — is immune to the war on nuclear, which is the ultimate factor driving the decline of nuclear energy globally;
  • The nuclear industry, governments, and the UN IAEA are unable to protect and expand nuclear energy — in South Korea and in much of the rest of the world — for cultural, pecuniary and institutional reasons;
  • A new vision, new institutions and new leadership are required to save and expand nuclear;
  • Nuclear’s radical vision and foundational moral purpose must be revitalized as atomic humanism;
  • New institutions — such as science associations, universities, private philanthropies and NGOs — must be supported to defend nuclear and engage the public;
  • Nations must overcome fears by standing up to nuclear fear-mongering and learning from successful efforts to reduce public fears.