South Korea Table of Contents

The Korean Peninsula is only modestly endowed with natural resources, and North Korea has far more natural resources than South Korea. During the Japanese colonial period (1910-45), the north served as the center for mining and industry whereas the south, with somewhat greater rainfall, a warmer climate, and slightly greater arable terrain, served as the center for rice production.

South Korea's mineral production is not adequate to supply its manufacturing output. Energy needs are also met by importing bituminous and anthracite coal and crude petroleum. In 1987 approximately 23.4 million tons of anthracite coal, approximately 4,000 tons of tungsten, 565,000 tons of iron ore, and 47,000 tons of zinc ore were mined. Lesser amounts of copper, lead, molybdenum, gold, silver, kaolin, and fluorite also were mined.

Energy producers were dominated by government enterprises, although privately operated coal mines and oil refineries also existed. In 1990 South Korea still had no proven oil reserves. Offshore oil possibilities in the Yellow Sea and on the continental shelf between Korea and Japan yielded nothing through the 1980s, but exploration continued. South Korea's coal supply was both insufficient and of low quality. The potential for hydroelectric power was very limited because of tremendous seasonal variations in the weather and the concentration of most of the rainfall in the summer months. Accordingly, Seoul placed an increasingly heavy emphasis on developing nuclear power generation.

Electric power in South Korea was provided by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). When KEPCO's predecessor, KECO, was founded in 1961, annual power production was 1,770 million kilowatt-hours (kwhr); production reached 73,992 million kwhr in 1987. The ratio of usage during 1987 was 17.9 percent for residential customers, 16.2 percent for public and service businesses, and 65.9 percent for the industrial sector. Energy used in electric power generation consisted primarily of nuclear, coal, oil, and liquified natural gas (LNG). Of the 54,885 million kwhr of electricity generated in 1985, 22 percent came from nuclear plants then in operation, 74 percent from thermal plants (oil and coal), and 4 percent from hydroelectric sites. It was predicted in 1988 that the generation structure by the year 2000 would be 10.2 percent hydroelectric, 12.2 percent oil, 22.9 percent coal, 10.2 percent LNG, and 44.5 percent nuclear.

South Korea placed a heavy emphasis on nuclear power generation. The country's first nuclear power plant, the Kori Number One located near Pusan, opened in 1977. Eight plants were operational in 1987 when atomic power generation was an estimated 71,158 million kilowatts, or 53.1 percent of total electric power.

South Korea's first antinuclear protests occurred in December 1988 when residents near the Kori complex demonstrated against low-level waste that had been secretly buried just outside the plant. In 1989 residents near other nuclear reactors protested the environmental damage they said was caused by the units. Sixteen antinuclear groups joined together to form the Movement for the Eradication of Nuclear Power Plants. The government, however, asserted that the South Korean nuclear program was well run and that none of the 193 antinuclear protests reported since 1977 was serious.

More about the Economy of South Korea.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress