Nuclear safety is paramount

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Nuclear safety is paramount

On Monday, the Wolseong-1 reactor in Gyeongju was out of order again for the third time this year. A day earlier, the Uljin-2 reactor in the same region also stopped working. Nuclear reactor breakdowns took place eight times from January to October, up from seven accidents in the same period of 2011 and sharply rising from two failures a year earlier.

Even though nuclear safety authorities always describe these as minor glitches, such frequent malfunctions are in themselves a serious problem as they drastically raise people’s suspicions about the safety of our nuclear power plants. A shocking corruption scandal involving parts supplies and drug abuse by employees at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation (KHNP) only fueled people’s suspicions, distrust and fears.

Moreover, the Wolseong-1 reactor is scheduled for decommission this month after 30 years in operation. It has to go through an evaluation by the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission to see if its lifespan can be extended. However, social tension over the issue is already building as seen in an earlier decision to prolong the life of the Gori-1 reactor, the nation’s oldest. If nuclear breakdowns continue to occur, a demand to decommission the Wolseong-1 reactor will most likely gain in strength.

It is time to launch a thorough examination of the safety of nuclear power plants across the nation instead of constantly resorting to quick fixes. We strongly urge nuclear safety authorities to analyze with precision the causes of such recurrent breakdowns and come up with permanent solutions by checking if there are any loopholes in the management and operation systems of our nuclear plants.

If the past breakdowns came from full-capacity operation of reactors to meet a surging demand for power on hot summer days, the KHNP needs to improve its maintenance of reactors. As demand for electricity will definitely soar with winter around the corner, the government may be reluctant to stop the operation of all reactors. The top priority, however, must be put on safety and maintaining citizens’ trust.

If safety checkups will lead to a decrease in electricity supply, the authorities should move in the direction of pushing down consumer demand for electricity. At the same time, the government should persuade the public to voluntarily take part in energy saving. Again, we urge the government and nuclear safety authorities not to operate reactors beyond their prescribed capacities. The Fukushima tragedy explains why.
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