Gov’t to limit operation of coal power plants to curb fine dust pollution


South Korea’s industry ministry said Wednesday it will regulate the operation of coal power plants to reduce emissions of fine dust as the country faced its worst level of pollution in recent days.


The Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy said it will move to have 60 coal power plants scale down their operations to 80 percent of their capacity in case of a spike in fine dust, up from the current 40 plants. “Due to the disaster-level density of fine dust over recent days, the inconvenience and damages suffered by the people are becoming unbearable. The government is taking the issue seriously,” Vice Minister Cheong Seung-il said during his visit to the Yeongheung coal power station west of Seoul. “Although state-run power firms have been making efforts to cut fine dust emissions by 25 percent over the past three years through investing in facilities, more must be done to meet the demand of the people,” Cheong said, claiming the ministry will make all-out efforts.


Fine dust particles are more likely to penetrate deeper into the lungs, while ultra-fine particles can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream, posing serious health risks. Over the upcoming spring, the ministry said it will also partially suspend the operation of 48 coal power plants from at least a week to 45 days over the March-June period, and fully shut down six plants over the period. The ministry will moreover promote the use of low-sulfur coal at local stations, in order to reduce the emission of sulfur oxide, which accounts for three-quarters of fine dust created from coal plants. Concerning six old coal plants in the country, the ministry said it will review closing them down earlier than planned. The government plans to permanently shut down the six plants at some point between December 2019 and May 2022.


The ministry said it will also induce existing coal plants to instead utilize liquefied natural gas (LNG) as their new source of energy. Officials from the four major industries responsible for fine-dust — steel, petrochemical, oil refining, and cement — also participated in the meeting with the industry ministry, discussing ways to cut fine-dust emissions.


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