* International Energy Agency calls for independent nuclear
* Says public should have faith in transparency of nuclear
* Reactors closed after scandal over fake nuclear safety
* South Korea should raise competition in electricity, gas
(Adds details and quotes with IEA statement)
By Meeyoung Cho
SEOUL, Nov 23 South Korea needs to rebuild
public trust in nuclear power by boosting transparency and
improving regulation, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said
on Friday, after safety scares have closed reactors and threaten
to trigger blackouts over winter.
Asia's fourth-largest economy lacks its own energy resources
and depends heavily on oil and gas imports while 23 nuclear
reactors usually supply a third of its power. The country plans
to add 11 more by 2024.
But the nuclear sector has suffered a big blow after an
investigation into fake safety documents for parts led to two
reactors being shut and after an extended shutdown of another
reactor where microscopic cracks were found.
Unveiling a report on South Korea's energy policies, the IEA
backed the country's nuclear programme, but said more needed to
be done to restore faith in a sector also facing greater global
scrutiny after last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
"Given the growing demand for energy and Korea's lack of
indigenous energy resources, this is a logical policy," Maria
van der Hoeven, the IEA's executive director, said in a
"Nonetheless, recent incidents at Korean nuclear facilities
should serve as a timely reminder to the government that the
nuclear regulatory authority must maintain an enhanced profile,
be well-resourced and able to take independent decisions."
The IEA, which advises industrialized nations and represents
28 oil importing countries, last released a report in South
Korea in 2006.
There is a lot at stake for South Korea, which also wants to
play a growing role in the global nuclear industry, and aims to
export 80 nuclear reactors by 2030, which could be worth a total
of $300 billion, according to government plans. A $20 billion
deal with the United Arab Emirates has already been signed.
Van der Hoeven said the government needed to openly deal
with concerns of local communities hosting nuclear facilities.
The South Korean government has been criticised for a lack
of transparency over safety in its nuclear programme and for the
dual supervisory and promotion roles of its regulators.
The country's public is traditionally seen as pro-nuclear,
although an opposition lawmaker has pressed the government to
resume publishing polls on nuclear safety after a loss of public
confidence in the sector in the wake of Fukushima.
MORE COMPETITION FOR POWER, GAS
Highlighting the vulnerability of its energy sector, South
Korea has warned it may have to bring in rolling power blackouts
during the harsh Korean winter due to a lack of nuclear power.
Six reactors are currently offline, with one restarting
earlier this week, according to government data.
Van der Hoeven said the country needed to increase
competition in its power and gas markets.
"The lack of a clear, long-term vision for electricity and
natural gas markets is one of the greatest energy-policy
challenges facing the Korean government," she said.
"The IEA strongly urges the Korean government to establish a
framework that allows the development of effective competition
in the electricity and natural gas markets."
South Korea is the world's fifth-largest crude oil importer
and second-largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) buyer.
More consumers should be given the choice of buying gas at
market prices from other sources and not just from state-run
Korea Gas Corp (KOGAS), the world's largest
corporate buyer of LNG and the country's sole gas wholesaler,
South Korea's economy ministry quoted the IEA's full report as
"Energy markets are dominated by incumbents and have been
slow to open up to competition while consumers face the threat
of electricity supply shortfalls."
Another state-run utility, Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO)
, is the sole electricity transmitter and
distributor, buying from six fully-owned power generators.
Both KOGAS and KEPCO are suffering billions of dollars of
losses as the government tries to hold down power charges to
(Additional reporting by Somang Yang and Jane Chung; Editing by
Anthony Barker and Ed Davies)