Restarting Wolseong 1
South Korea’s second-oldest nuclear power reactor in Gyeongju, which has been dormant for the last three years after finishing its intended lifespan of 30 years, received a license to renew operations after a refurbishment and upgrade. The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission reached a decision to extend the life of the Wolseong 1 reactor to 2022. It was the second issue of new lease on life for an outdated nuclear reactor after the Gori 1, whose 30-year life expired in 2007, was turned back on for another 10 years. The latest decision was based on evaluations by experts including the state-owned Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety. The reactor passed stress and other safety tests to see if it could resist disasters by a group of experts and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Regardless of the test results, authorities must be thorough with their scrutiny of the plant before it reactivates its aging nuclear reactor. The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in the aftermath of a 2011 earthquake is a living lesson of the potential catastrophic dangers of nuclear power plants. Safety has become the key word in our society since the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry last year. The new license for Wolseong 1 was approved after three rounds of reviews and multiple evaluations. The government should reinvestigate issues raised during the final round of reviews and prepare a strong pitch to persuade the residents of the area of the rightness of the decision. Safety concerns and suspicions linger because of a series of corruption scandals by the nuclear power authority and related industries.
Nuclear power is a primary energy source for the country. It provides 27 percent of the country’s power generation. The Wolseong 1 reactor had the capacity of generating 5 billion kilowatt-hours a year as of 2008 and is capable of providing 80 percent of the power to homes in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province. The cheap and good-quality power from nuclear generators has been an important pillar of the Korean economy. There are few other affordable alternatives for energy for countries deprived of natural resources. Developments in renewable energy have been costly and slow and fossil fuel-based power generation goes against international efforts to fight global warming. But nuclear power cannot be sustained without assurances of its safety and public confidence.
The opposition is poised to use the decision on restarting the plant to attack the government. But the matter should be studied for the benefit of the whole country.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 28, Page 30