From nuclear energy developmental state to energy transition in South Korea: The role of the political epistemic community

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Why did previous Korean governments adopt nuclear energy as a baseline for electricity generation and promote the exportation of nuclear energy? Why did the current Korean government dramatically change its energy policy to energy transition and postnuclear energy in 2017? How did politicians, bureaucrats, industries, civil society organizations, and political epistemic communities interact in the nuclear energy policymaking process? This study addresses contemporary changes in Korean nuclear energy policy by applying the concepts “nuclear energy developmental state” and “political epistemic community.” This paper attempts to identify the relevant actors in state transition, interactive matrices in policymaking processes, and the mechanisms by which the energy baseline has shifted. A comprehensive analysis of the President's National Policy Priority Agenda, National Energy Basic Plans, the Basic Plan of Long-Term Electricity Supply and Demand, meeting minutes of relevant government committees, and interview data of relevant actors facilitates understanding of the formation, evolution, and transformation of the contemporary state of nuclear energy throughout different political administrations, including the Lee (2008–2012), Park (2013–2016), and Moon administrations (2017–Present). I argue that political coalitions are integral in nuclear energy policy change in specific and general energy policy. Compared to highlighted agents such as bureaucrats, antinuclear movements, and epistemic communities, the political epistemic community—closely connecting knowledge, value, and power—plays a role in developing different types of political coalitions through nuclear energy decision-making. During the Lee and Park administrations, a nuclear energy developmental state emerged with a strong coalition between politicians, bureaucrats, and the nuclear industry with support from the nuclear energy epistemic community. However, the Moon administration is characterized by a different coalition that includes politicians, civil society organizations, and the postnuclear energy epistemic community, which propels energy transition from nuclear energy to a decentralized renewable energy system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-93
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Policy and Governance
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Mar 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Park administration's presidential agenda number 10 aimed to promote the export of nuclear power plant construction. To expand foreign contracts for nuclear power plants, the Park administration—specifically, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transportation and the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy—suggested establishing country‐specific export strategies and facilitating financial support for nuclear power plants by enhancing loans from the Export Bank. Number 140, “strengthening industry and resource cooperation for new market,” was developed to increase the number of nuclear energy experts devoted to regulation and nuclear safety research and development sectors. Moreover, Number 86, “the establishment of nuclear safety management system,” highlighted safety inspections for old nuclear power plants, nuclear safety information disclosure, and enhanced transparency in safety regulation (BlueHouse, 2013 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 ERP Environment and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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