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South Korea coal, nuclear power targeted for cuts by presidential candidates

(This version of the April 12 story corrects figure on projected coal power generation in paragraph eight to 25 percent, not 15 percent)

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SEOUL (Reuters) - No matter who is elected as South Korea’s new leader next month it is clear that coal and nuclear power generation will likely be scaled back, with most of the candidates laying out plans on Wednesday to address public concerns over pollution and safety.

Less than a month from a May 9 election to replace impeached president Park Geun-hye, policy experts outlined in a forum the energy proposals of four of the five contenders.

The two leading candidates, liberal front-runner Moon Jae-In and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo, both plan to lower South Korea’s reliance on coal and nuclear power, pointing to a need to shift to renewable energy, according to their policy advisors.

In the latest poll by Gallup Korea, Moon got the support of 38 percent of respondents, and Ahn got 35 percent.

South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, gets 40 percent of its electricity from coal, 30 percent from nuclear, 20 percent from natural gas, and the rest from oil and renewables.

But policy changes are expected amid growing concerns over pollution and the safety of nuclear energy, and Moon and Ahn appear determined to help drive them.

“We should move away from coal and nuclear power, and shift to clean or renewable energy-based platforms,” said Kim Jwa-kwan, head of Moon’s energy policy team.

Kim said his team planned for nuclear and coal power to account for 18 percent and 25 percent respectively of power supply by 2030, while the contribution of liquefied natural gas (LNG) would increase to 37 percent to support the rise of renewables.

If elected, Moon also “would scrap a plan to build Shin Kori No.5 and Shin Kori No.6 nuclear reactors on which construction began last year and revamp the country’s nuclear power expansion scheme,” Kim said.

That means South Korea’s plan to build 11 nuclear reactors by 2029 could be under threat.

Ahn would similarly shelve a plan to construct four coal-fired power plants and not extend the lifespan of ageing coal and nuclear power stations, said Oh Jeong-Rye, deputy director of Ahn’s People Party.

Both candidates target a 20 percent renewable energy share by 2030 as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions.

Under the current power supply plan, in addition to building 11 nuclear reactors by 2029 - three of which are already under construction - South Korea plans to add 20 more coal-fired power plants by 2022.

Policy experts for two other candidates - the conservative Bareun Party’s Yoo Seong-min and the left-wing Justice Party’s Sim Sang-jung - also said they would overhaul South Korea’s coal and nuclear energy policy.

Sim would cut nuclear power to zero by 2040 and phase out coal by 2060, according to her energy advisor.

Reporting By Jane Chung; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Tom Hogue