An overhaul of nuclear facilities in the pipeline

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An overhaul of nuclear facilities in the pipeline

Korea will replace potentially faulty equipment at its older nuclear power plants and overhaul its safety guidelines in an effort to prevent accidents that could lead to meltdowns, the government said yesterday.

The plan by the Ministry of Knowledge Economy calls for checking operating systems of all reactors that have been in operation for more than 20 years in the coming months.

Of the 21 operational commercial reactors in the country, nine have been running for more than two decades, requiring them to be checked.

“All equipment and systems that could pose problems will be checked with a detailed plan for their replacement to be established in June,” the ministry said. It added that, besides equipment directly related to the running of the reactors, inspectors will look at emergency power generators at the country’s four nuclear power plants by July. The generators are needed to cool reactors in case there is a problem with the regular electricity supply. Failure to cool reactors can cause the kind of catastrophe that destroyed Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station in March 2011.

The measures come after Seoul was forced to halt its Gori-1 reactor operations last month when outside electricity needed to keep the reactors cool was cut off by mistake during a routine safety check. The incident posed no threat to Korea’s oldest reactor located in northern Busan, about 450 kilometers east of Seoul, but it caused an uproar when workers and plant managers tried to cover up the mishap.

In addition, all emergency diesel power generators failed to come on-line because they had not been properly maintained.

The ministry in charge of the country’s energy policies said besides replacing equipment that could fail down the road, inspectors will greatly increase the type of parts and installations that will be examined. More time will also be allocated so each reactor can be properly examined.

It announced that all parts due for replacement would be purchased based on quality instead of the lowest price. Suppliers will be encouraged to build up necessary know-how and competitiveness, while failure to meet standards could cause them to be excluded from future contracts.

Gori-1 and the four Wolsong Canada Deuterium Uranium power units have a life cycle of 30 years, while a newer pressurized water reactor can be in operation for 40 years.

The ministry said to deal with the “secretive” work culture at nuclear power plants, comprehensive efforts will be made to enhance transparency.


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