Nuke plan likely scuttled after failures

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Nuke plan likely scuttled after failures

Korea’s plan to expand its nuclear power capabilities is likely to be reconsidered due to multiple nuclear reactor malfunctions.

The country has seen nine cases of reactor malfunction this year, already two more than the seven malfunctions last year.

Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant’s reactor No. 1, the country’s second oldest reactor in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, was shut down Monday for the fourth time this year.

The operator of the plant, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corporation (KHNP) yesterday blamed a faulty water cooling system for the malfunction.

With the addition of the halt of a nuclear plant in Uljin on Sunday, Korea may have to scrap its basic energy plan. The plan was set in 2008 in an attempt to increase nuclear energy use to almost 60 percent of total energy use by 2030.

This has triggered the voices of civil rights groups that are opposed to renewing the operational contract on the 30-year-old reactor for an additional 10 years.

The reactor, which started its commercial operation in 1983, had 39 shut downs before Monday, according to KHNP.

Gyeongju Federation for Environment Movement said the reactor malfunctioned even after it was refurbished earlier this year.

“A total of 700 billion won ($639 million) was spent to refurbish a pressure pipe, yet the reactor continues to malfunction,” said the federation in a release Tuesday.

“As continuous malfunctions clearly show that the reactor is aging, it might be the right choice to start planning how to safely shut down the reactor rather than how to renew the operational license.”

The reactor malfunction came only a day after Uljin Nuclear Power Plant’s reactor No. 2 stopped after a control valve for a steam turbine malfunctioned. The plant is in the process of changing the faulty part and has not resumed operation.

Eight of the nine cases of reactor malfunction this year have happened since July, after Korea started to see surging electricity demand due to the hot weather conditions.

To avoid a nationwide blackout, the government operated power plants at their full capacity and postponed the scheduled inspection and maintenance work of power plants until after the peak energy consumption period.

“Cutting the maintenance period to 31 days last year from 50 days in 2000 causes nuclear reactors to malfunction much more frequently,” said Kwon Eun-hee, a Saenuri Party lawmaker, last week during a legislative hearing for the KHNP.

Meanwhile, the local government’s first National Energy Basic Plan is likely to be reformed as the presidential candidates do not agree on nuclear energy use. Korea, the world’s fifth-largest producer of nuclear power, currently operates 23 reactors that supply about 30 percent of the total electricity consumption, according to the Korea Nuclear Energy Promotion Agency.

However, presidential candidate Park Geun-hye said the construction of new plants should be carefully reviewed. Other candidates Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo not only disagree with the new construction of plants but also object to renewing the licenses of the existing ones as well.

By Lee Sun-min [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]

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