(Bloomberg) -- South Korea’s plan to co-fire coal plants with ammonia could spew thousands of tons of toxic gas that’s known to cause breathing difficulties, lung disease and genetic dysfunctions into the atmosphere, according a new analysis. 

Burning ammonia doesn’t emit carbon dioxide but it does release fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, according to a report from Solutions for Our Climate and Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. The two nonprofits argued that South Korea should transition away from coal and accelerate a shift towards renewables like solar and wind. 

One reason Asian economic powerhouses like South Korea and Japan are reluctant to shift away from coal-fired generation is that many of their facilities are newer than those in other regions like North America or Europe and shuttering the plants could lead to write downs. The average age of coal plants in the US is 41 years compared with 21 years in Japan and Korea, according to a 2021 report from the International Energy Agency.   

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South Korea remains heavily reliant on coal. The dirtiest fossil fuel accounted for 34% of the nation’s power generation in 2021 and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) has said it plans to co-fire about half of the nation’s coal-fired generation with 20% ammonia by 2030.

The authors estimated that if ammonia co-firing proceeds as currently planned, the amount of fine dust emitted in the Chungnam province in southwest of the Korean Peninsula, where power plants are concentrated, is expected to rise by more than 50% to 8,430 metric tons. South Korea’s MOTIE didn’t respond to a call and text message seeking comment. 

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