A seismic riskOur country has been shaken by the recent series of powerful earthquakes in the southeastern region surrounding Gyeongju in North Gyeongsang. The southern coast is home to 70 percent of Korea’s nuclear reactors. As the meltdown in Fukushima after the 2011 mega-scale quakes and tsunami in eastern Japan showed, leaks and other crises stemming from nuclear reactors could translate into bigger damages than those solely from natural disasters.
A government report has named the Yangsan fault as the source of the recent tremors. The Ilgwang fault near Busan and Wolseong County near Gyeongju have also been pointed to as active zones with potential for earthquakes. The report was drawn up by the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources after three years of study from 2009 to 2012 and handed to fire department authorities for reference.
What is shocking is that the fault zones overlap with Korea’s nuclear reactors. Eight reactors sit near the Ilgwang fault, and two additions under construction in the Gori complex are just 5 kilometers (3 miles) away. The Wolseong complex, which houses six reactors, is not far from the Ulsan fault. People are stunned to learn that nuclear facilities have been built on such quake-prone areas.
The public-sector response after discovering the existence of active fault lines is equally surprising. The state-run institute concluded that the Yangsan fault had become active but held back the information out of fear of triggering social unrest. The government kept assuring that the Yangsan fault was safe from seismic activity every time it pitched building a new reactor.
Geologist Lee Ki-hwa in 1983 first warned that the Yangsan fault had the potential to trigger an earthquake, but his theory was challenged by others. The government did not conduct precise geological studies when it built 14 reactors around the area, and now, another two are being built in the Gori complex.
Safety should come first in the construction of nuclear reactors, and safety is built on public trust. The government must share all information, including geological studies, in relation to nuclear reactor policy. It must conduct a comprehensive investigation into the fault lines around the southern coast and must not complain about the lack of budget and manpower when public safety is at stake.
The ground below must first be safe to ensure the safety of nuclear reactors. Only clear and scientific actions can appease public anxiety.
Engineering of earthquake-resistant structures must also be reinforced. We need to come up with and install entirely new safety systems in at-risk zones.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 23, Page 34
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