Korea’s national electrical monopoly, Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEP), says it is considering boosting coal purchases to replace nuclear power generation if the Kori 1 reactor remains shut and the government fails to extend the lifespan of a second reactor.

Kori 1 was closed for safety checks on March 13, five weeks after a power failure caused the temperature of its core to rise. The operating permit for Wolsong 1 expires in November.

While generating electricity from coal costs almost twice as much as atomic energy, it is cheaper than natural gas or oil, according to the Korea Energy Economics Institute.

“Economically, coal is the best,” said Osamu Fujisawa, an independent energy economist in Tokyo who estimates coal imports may gain as much as 2.45 million metric tons a year if both South Korean reactors are closed. “If you’re trying to increase summer power generation, coal is the best in terms of cost.”

South Korea’s imports of thermal coal were a record 94.5 million tons last year, up from 87.8 million in 2010, according to Simpson Spence & Young Ltd., a London-based shipbroker. The nation was the world’s third-largest importer after China and Japan.

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