Nuclear reactor accident rate is higher than at thermal plants

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Nuclear reactor accident rate is higher than at thermal plants

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Korea’s nuclear power plants had almost twelve times more industrial accidents than other kinds of power plants largely due to a shortage of manpower, the government said.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Monday revealed results from a study of contract workers’ working environment, contract structures and the budget allocated for reactor maintenance.

According to a Ministry of Labor and Employment study of all public enterprises, only 0.04 out of every 100 plant workers at five power generation affiliates of Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) - mostly at thermal and combined power plants - were victims of industrial accidents in 2013.

But at KHNP’s nuclear power complexes, the rate was while almost 0.48 out of every 100 plant workers.

The average for all public enterprises was also 0.48.

The study, which lasted for three months until early last month, followed the deaths of contract workers at the Hanbit and Wolseong nuclear reactors in the past few months, as well as information leaks at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation (KHNP) headquarters and Hanbit power complex.

Two workers died while working inside the reactors’ cooling pool at Hanbit and Wolseong complexes last year, and three workers at a Singori 3 reactor construction site died from a nitrogen gas leak at the end of last year.

As for information security, one of KHNP’s suppliers reported to a local new agency that KHNP employees shared reactor maintenance system log-in IDs and passwords with suppliers out of laziness.

“The accidents from last year [including the information leak and deaths of the reactor workers] were something that shouldn’t have happened in a country like Korea, where the nuclear industry and its technologies are mature,” Jung Dong-hee, director general for nuclear power industry policy at the Energy Ministry, told reporters at a press briefing Monday.

The government pointed out that KHNP should hire more workers, provide better conditions for contract workers, set up a mediation committee for them, and install more safety equipment at reactors.

The Energy Ministry on Monday ordered KHNP to spend 130 million won ($114,900) every year to install and maintain safety fences inside reactor cooling pools, providing new masks for divers, and directly hire divers instead of employing them through suppliers as contract workers.

The government also ordered the company to provide industrial accident insurance for all temporary reactor workers whether they are hired by suppliers or the KHNP by June.

KHNP was also ordered to provide better contracts for workers dealing with radioactive waste by the end of this year.

A safety commission to oversee KHNP’s safety conditions for contract workers will be launched in May.

But Jung emphasized that local nuclear power reactors are safe.

BY KIM JI-YOON [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]

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