Gori-1 power cut a wake-up callThe country’s oldest nuclear reactor, Gori-1 in Busan, lost power for 12 minutes last month. If the power cut had lasted a little longer, the cooling water could have evaporated and caused a similar problem as occurred during the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan last year.
While something like this should never have happened in the first place in our own backyard, of even more concern was the way local authorities responded afterward. Those in charge of the reactor did not take immediate emergency steps, even though an external electricity and diesel generator did not activate as they should have following the blackout. Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power reported the incident to the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission almost one month after the event, which has set alarm bells ringing due to the apparent ineptitude of both the security and reporting systems.
The reactor operator may have wanted to conceal the accident at Gori-1, which has had its 30-year life span extended despite questions about its safety, because it occurred close to the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima debacle.
But such a myopic view heightens the risk of a major disaster occurring in the future. The catastrophic nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 was also triggered by a small mistake during a systems test, and hasty attempts to reverse the mistake led to the explosion. A huge earthquake and tsunami initially caused the accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, but poor crisis control and management by electricity and government authorities in cooling the boiler aggravated the disaster. Bureaucratic irresponsibility and an information cover-up sent the world on both sides of the Pacific into panic about the prospect of a radioactive leak.
Clearly, safety must be the top priority at nuclear reactors, where blackouts are like cutting off the supply of blood or oxygen. Such a grave foul-up should not be casually brushed aside as a bureaucratic mistake. The state-run reactor operator has come under fire recently for its allegedly shady dealings with parts suppliers. It also throws open to examination the government’s claim that it has reinforced safety and security at such plants in the wake of the Fukushima accident.
Outside inspectors from the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission should conduct a joint probe with the Board of Audit and Inspection. If any irregularities are detected, operators must be severely punished and firm guidelines set. Without the trust of the public, the much-needed reactors can hardly survive.