UPDATE 2-S.Korea curbs reliance on nuclear power, but commitment intact
* Nuclear power to make up 29 pct of total by 2035
* Revises down plan for nuclear to grow to 41 pct by 2030
* Cut is least stringent of recommended options
* South Korea still looking to export its nuclear expertise (Recasts, adds export push, comments)
By Jane Chung
SEOUL, Jan 14 (Reuters) - South Korea formally adopted a lower target for nuclear power, but still plans to double its nuclear capacity over the next two decades as its state-run industry builds at least 16 new domestic reactors and pushes for overseas sales.
Asia's fourth-largest economy has been under pressure to curb its use of nuclear power in the wake of a scandal over fake safety certificates for parts at some reactors and public unease sparked by Japan's Fukushima disaster.
The new energy policy will cut South Korea's reliance on nuclear power to 29 percent of total power supply by 2035, down from a planned 41 percent by 2030.
But South Korea remains deeply committed to nuclear energy and the decision was the least stringent reduction of a range of figures suggested last October by a public advisory group.
The government last year stressed that nuclear, which made up 26 percent of the power mix at end-2012, will maintain a role and its capacity would not be drastically slashed or expanded in a country already spending billions of dollars on oil, gas and coal imports.
"South Korea cannot overlook the importance of nuclear power, given it is so far the cheapest energy resource for its large energy consuming businesses and competitiveness," said Park Joo-heon, professor of economics at Dongduk Women's University who advised the government on energy policy.
South Korea, which ranks fifth globally in nuclear power generation, has largely developed its own nuclear industry, building and operating its reactors through state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO).
Despite putting the brakes on plans at home, South Korea still aims to sell nuclear technology abroad.
State-owned Korea Electric Power Corp won a contract in 2009 to build four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates and started construction in mid-2012.
It also hopes to build reactors in India, exporting its expertise into a global market that has been dominated by France, the United States and Russia. South Korean president Park Geun-hye will raise the issue when she visits India this week, her office confirmed.
The country currently has 23 nuclear reactors, which generate just over 20,000 MW of energy, with capacity expected to grow to 43,000 MW by 2035 under the latest plan.
It plans to add 11 more reactors by 2024, with five already under construction. A further five 1,400 MW reactors will be needed between 2025 and 2035, an energy ministry official who declined to be identified told Reuters, down from as many as 20 under the previous target.
In addition, the operating licences for 14 units will expire by 2035, more than half of the current total, although the ministry has yet to announce whether it would extend their operating life or look to replace them.
The ministry also said on Tuesday it plans to invest 1.1 trillion won ($95 million) in ageing nuclear facilities by 2017 as part of efforts to strengthen nuclear safety.
The study group had recommended reducing the country's reliance on nuclear energy to between 22 to 29 percent of its total power supply.
Of the country's 23 nuclear reactors, three are offline mainly for scheduled maintenance, including a reactor which is awaiting an extension of its licence after its 30-year lifespan expired in November 2012, according to a website of nuclear operator Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP).
Ahead of the peak winter demand in January, the country's nuclear regulator early this month approved the restart of three reactors shut since last May to replace control cables supplied using forged safety certificates.
KHNP is fully owned by Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO). ($1 = 1056.6500 Korean won) (Editing by Richard Pullin)
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