SEJONG-- Fine dust levels have decreased some 15 percent in the central region of South Korea following the temporary shutdown of eight old coal-fired power plants last month as part of the government's efforts to reduce the country's air pollution levels, a study showed Tuesday.

Starting June 1, the thermal power plants, including four in central Chungcheong Province, were closed for 30 days. The plants have a combined generation capacity of 2.8 gigawatts, or some 2.5 percent of the country's total.

During the one-month period, emissions of fine dust vented by the shutdown plants fell 304 tons, accounting for 15 percent of the 1,975 tons discharged by 53 coal-fired stations nationwide last year, according to the study conducted by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

Also, the level of fine dust in the Chungcheong area dropped 15.4 percent to 22 micrograms per cubic meter from 26 micrograms per cubic meter, the average of the two previous years.

"We saw improvements in the monthly fine dust level," the ministry said. "Related government ministry and other agencies will keep looking into the effect of the shutdowns based on the latest results."

The government earlier said that the temporary shutdown will be held every year in the spring season, when electricity demand is relatively low and the fine dust level tends to rise.

Reducing fine dust has emerged as one of the most pressing issues in the country, which has been struggling with bad air, especially in the spring season. High fine dust levels have caused the government to ask people to stay indoors.

Coal burning thermal power plants are regarded as a key source of fine dust emissions, which coupled with yellow dust largely originating from China adversely affects air conditions here.

President Moon Jae-in called for stopping operations of coal-fired plants aged 30 years or older to help bring down fine dust levels.

Within the next five years, the 10 old plants will be permanently closed earlier than their original shutdown schedules.

Source: Yonhap News Agency