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South Korea uses a combination of thermal (oil, gas, and coal), nuclear, and hydroelectric capacity to meet its demand for electric power. Total power generation capacity was 54 gigawatts (GW) as of the beginning of 2002. The South Korean government estimates that its electricity demand will rise at an average annual rate of around 4 percent per year through 2015.
In September 1998, KEPCO officially dedicated its Ulchin Number 3 nuclear reactor and launched the construction of Ulchin Nuclear Power Plants Numbers 5 and 6. Ulchin Number 3 has a generating capacity of 1 GW and is the first nuclear power plant built completely with South Korean technology from design to construction. The Number 4 Ulchin nuclear plant was completed in late 1999, and Number 5 was completed in mid-2004. Number 6 scheduled for completion in 2005.
The South Korean government is moving ahead with plans to break up and privatize most of the assets of KEPCO, albeit at a much slower pace than originally planned, and with electricity distribution being retained as a government-held corporation. The plan to retain distribution assets of KEPCO represented a change in policy, and was announced in July 2004. The South Korean government unbundled KEPCO into separate generation, transmission, and distribution units. In early 2001, KEPCO split its power generation holdings into six separate subsidiaries, in a preliminary move to facilitate a split into competing companies. Five of the six operate thermal and hydroelectric facilities and are of roughly equal size in terms of installed generating capacity - between 7 and 8 GW. The sixth is comprised of all of KEPCO's nuclear plants, which will be kept together in one corporation under government ownership. The privatization plan has been controversial, with unions fearing layoffs by new management and some politicians opposing foreign ownership. South Korea's government remains committed to privatization of the fine non-nuclear generating companies, but progress has been slow, and dates for share offerings of the companies have been repeatedly postponed.
While most of South Korea's generating capacity is still controlled by KEPCO, a few independent power producers (IPPs) exist. LG Power, owned by the LG Group conglomerate, operates a 540-megawatt (MW) independent power plant at Bugok near Asan Bay. The facility began operation in April 2001. LG Power purchased the existing Anyang and Puchon plants in June 2000, with a combined capacity of 950 MW, from KEPCO after a competitive tender. Tractebel is also investing in a new 519-MW IPP plant in Yulchon in partnership with Hyundai. In another significant development, South Korea's original IPP, Hanwha Energy was spun off from its chaebol parent company in June 2000, in a deal in which El Paso Energy acquired a 50 percent stake. Hanwha Energy operates a 1,800-MW plant at Inchon. In general, IPP project activity has been slowed down by the uncertainty over the timetable for the privatization of KEPCO's generation assets.
South Korea has ratified the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, and while its status as a "non-Annex I state" means it has not undertaken to meet specific targets, its future plans emphasize the development of more nuclear power plants to reduce growth in carbon emissions. A dozen additional nuclear plants are planned before 2015, which would raise the nuclear share of power generation in South Korea substantially.