Indemnity offered for extension of reactor's life

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Indemnity offered for extension of reactor's life

Officials on Monday outlined the amount of government compensation residents living near the country’s second-oldest nuclear power reactor would receive, more than two months after the state’s atomic energy authority announced it would extend the lifespan of the Wolseong 1 reactor in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang.

Insiders from the key negotiating parties - the Gyeongju City Government, the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) and a committee representing residents living closest to the reactor - said they have recently reached a tentative agreement to allocate about 131 billion won ($121 million) in government funds.

After discussions with the rest of the community, the residents’ committee will decide whether to finalize the offer and accept the money.

If the agreement is carried out, more than half the amount, 78.6 billion won, will be allocated to the neighborhoods closest to the nuclear plant, including Gampo-eup, Yangnam-myeon and Yangbuk-myeon.

Another 52.4 billion won will be set aside for the city of Gyeongju, located 371 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of Seoul. The funds will likely go toward welfare projects in the areas. Monday’s announcement served a significant breakthrough in negotiations circling the Wolseong 1 reactor, as the interested parties struggled to reach an agreement on financial compensation. Gyeongju residents initially requested 281 billion won, while the KHNP, the country’s nuclear operator, offered less than half of that, 110 billion won.

The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC), a nuclear power safety regulator under the Prime Minister’s office, relayed plans in February to reactivate a reactor that was shut down in 2012 at the completion of its original 30-year lifespan. After passing safety tests conducted by local and international atomic energy experts, the nuclear safety watchdog gave the green light to run the Wolseong 1 reactor through 2022, a plan that the KHNP said would begin as early as April.

The idea eventually went into gridlock when environmental activists and Gyeongju residents protested the decision. They cited safety issues around the aging nuclear reactor as well as past nuclear disasters in others countries, namely the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown in 2011 that followed a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The NSSC struggled to reassure its opponents, however, stating that keen evaluations were made on numerous trials by the state-run Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety and the International Atomic Energy Agency. February’s decision on the Wolseong 1 reactor was the second time Korea decided to issue a new lease on life for an outdated nuclear reactor after the Gori 1, whose 30-year life expired in 2007, and was renewed for another 10 years.

A heavy-water reactor with a capacity of 679,000 kilowatts, the Wolseong 1 has run for three decades since 1982, providing power to homes in Daegu and North Gyeongsang.

Korea currently has 23 nuclear reactors. Seven more are under construction.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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