Decision on fate of Wolseong 1 nuclear plant hangs in balance

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Decision on fate of Wolseong 1 nuclear plant hangs in balance

The country’s nuclear authority failed to decide as of press time Thursday whether to restart Wolseong 1, the country’s second oldest nuclear power plant, which was shut down in December 2012 at the completion of its 30-year lifespan.

At press time, the nine commissioners of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC), including its chairman, were in a meeting at its office in Jongno District, central Seoul, from 10 a.m.

In two previous meetings, the NSSC also failed to reach a decision.

The NSSC is weighing expert opinions on this issue split between the pro-operation extension group - mostly made up of researchers at state-run research institutes - and anti-extension lobbyists from civic groups and universities.

Groups that want the reactor to be started up for a another decade, such as the state-run institute Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS), argue that the reactor is safe enough to operate and is needed to contribute to the nation’s energy supply. The KINS claims that Wolseong 1 met safety requirements in all categories - the reactor itself, network systems and nearby facilities - as well as stress durability tests against any emergencies.

The organizations that want to mothball the country’s second-oldest reactor doubt its safety and insist that energy supplies are sufficient without Wolseong 1. According to the Energy Ministry’s power supply plan for the next five years, the country is expected to maintain 15 percent power reserve levels even without two outdated nuclear reactors, Wolseong 1 and Gori 1 in Busan.

The anti-extension groups say both reactors are more than 30 years old and should be shut down to prevent nuclear accidents.

The Wolseong 1 reactor, located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, was engineered in Canada and started operating in 1982. It has a capacity of 679,000 kilowatts, but its operations have been suspended since 2012 because it reached the end of its estimated life span of 30 years.

In 2009, the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation (KHNP) applied for an operation extension. The state-run company spent about 560 billion won ($510 million) to replace old parts and install additional safety features at the facility.

If the NSSC approves its extended operation, the reactor can operate safely for a decade, according to KHNP.

Gori 1 was completed in 1977 and began operation the next year. The reactor was shut down in 2007 after completing its 30-year lifespan. The NSSC approved an extension of its life for ten more years and it was restarted in January 2008.

That has been a controversial decision since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan in 2011. Gori 1 has suffered several malfunctions, including a complete blackout for 12 minutes in February 2012 that could have led to a catastrophic meltdown.

The progressive Justice Party, environmental groups and residents of Gyeongju gathered in front of the NSSC building in central Seoul and held press conferences to protest a possible extension of the aged reactor’s lifespan.

Meanwhile, ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung Wednesday hinted that the government has essentially decided not to extend Gori 1’s life beyond June 2017, though the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy denied it later.

Residents of Busan, where the Gori 1 is located, have been demanding a permanent shutdown of the old reactor due to safety concerns.

“When we take a look at the government’s position on Gori 1, Busan citizens are expected to achieve what they want,” said Kim in a party meeting in Busan on Wednesday. “But the government is likely to announce it after they make a decision on Wolseong 1.”

After Kim’s statement, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy explained Thursday that they haven’t decided whether to apply for an extension of Gori 1’s operation and are still reviewing KHNP’s evaluation result.


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