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Nuclear power plant’s fate unclear

Feb 09,2017
The destiny of the Wolseong-1 nuclear reactor has been challenged once again.

In 2015, the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission extended the life of the nuclear reactor to 2022. But on Tuesday, the Seoul Administrative Court decided to cancel that decision and there now is a possibility of the reactor being shut down as early as this year

The court blamed its decision on poor documentation proving the reactor’s safety.

Korea’s nuclear power plants have lifespans decided in advance. Reactors built after 1990 can operate from 40 years to 60 years.

However, the Kori-1 reactor, which started operating in 1978, and the Wolseong-1 reactor, which began in 1983, were designed to run for 30 years.

But extensions have been given Korea’s oldest reactors.

“The lifespan is only the duration that the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission has allowed in advance and doesn’t necessarily mean the reactor will have safety problems when the date is passed,” said Sim Eun-jung, a director at the commission.

Wolseong-1’s original lifespan ended in 2012, and the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corporation (KHNP) asked the commission to extend the date. The power plant operator argued that the plant can still be operated with perfect safety.

In February 2015, the commission conducted a safety inspection of the reactor and extended the operation date for 10 years, or until 2022.

After that decision was made, 2,167 civic activists in Gyeongju, where the reactor is located, filed a suit protesting it in May 2015.

The court ruled in favor of those residents. According to current law, the KHNP is obligated to submit a total of seven documents, including a comprehensive safety analysis report, to the government’s regulator. Additionally, the operator was supposed to provide a graph that compares the reactor’s specifications before and after the lifespan deadline.

KHNP failed to submit six documents. The graph it provided was hard to understand.

KHNP argued that it was true that all seven documents are needed when first applying for the operation but for an extension it only needs to submit operations certification and the graph.

The court also found the regulator’s reviewing process had flaws.

There are nine members on the committee and they have two duties - approving the reactor to operate past its original lifespan and coming up with a new lifespan. However, the court said they only discussed the first issue, while the latter issue was decided by a director of the commission. The court said that wasn’t legitimate.

The court also found two members of the committee were not even qualified to be members. The law prohibits a person who has been involved in a nuclear reactor-related businesses within three years from joining the committee. Two members were involved in such businesses within three years of joining.

The court also said the standards that the regulator used to look at safety issues were loose. The law requires the commission to investigate whether the reactor is safe and whether it uses up-to-date technology. The nuclear commission argued that they have used appropriate technology.


BY MOON HEE-CHUL, LEE SEUNG-HO [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]


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