Korea has started building two new nuclear reactors, reaffirming its unwavering commitment to developing atomic energy.
The government hailed the 1,400-megawatt reactors as “a new milestone” in Korea’s nuclear technology development, as their key components, such as the man-machine interface and reactor coolant pumps, were all designed and produced locally.
The two reactors, both based on the nation’s Advanced Power Reactor design, will be built at the Uljin power plant on the southeastern coast. One will be completed in April 2017 and the other by late February 2018.
During a ground-breaking ceremony on Friday, President Lee Myung-bak stressed that atomic power was “not an option but a must” for an energy-scarce country like Korea. He reiterated that “nuclear power is still the only viable alternative to fossil fuels.”
We share Lee’s view that Korea has no option but to rely on nuclear energy until renewable energy sources become a viable means of generating power.
We also recognize the localization of the core reactor components as an important achievement that testifies to Korea’s world-class nuclear technology.
Yet public confidence in Korea’s nuclear safety standards has recently been rattled by a series of scandals. In February, a 12-minute blackout occurred at the Gori-1 reactor in Busan. Officials in charge of the nation’s oldest reactor attempted to cover it up.
The blackout did not lead to any accident, but it called into question not only the integrity of the officials operating nuclear power plants but their claims that Korea’s safety levels are the highest in the world. It simply demonstrated their disregard of the plant operation manual and the safety of the public.
Public trust in the safety of nuclear power plants was further undermined by allegations of corruption involving officials of Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co., the operator of the nation’s 21 nuclear reactors.
Thus far six KHNP officials have been arrested on charges of taking money from parts suppliers in return for allowing them to supply unapproved parts to power plants. More officials are expected to be arrested as the prosecution expands its investigation.
We suspect some of the malfunctions that have taken place at nuclear plants had to do with non-genuine parts supplied by the contractors involved in the corrupt deals.
During his speech at Uljin, Lee said the government would reform the parts supply system to uproot the corrupt practices. We will watch closely how the system is reformed. KHNP officials should clean up their act to avoid fueling the growing anti-nuclear movement.