Nothing can be placed before safety when it comes to nuclear power generation. The latest reminder was the Fukushima disaster of March 2011. The nuclear reactors, though designed to withstand a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, succumbed to the 14-meter-high tsunami waves.
Now, has Japan entirely abandoned nuclear power generation in the wake of the Fukushima accident? Of course not. It is instead preparing to restart two of the reactors that have passed post-Fukushima safety tests.
At issue in Korea is the restarting of the Kori nuclear power plant No. 1, which sustained a temporary cutoff in power supply in February, which, if continued longer, could have resulted in a disaster. The power failure prompted antinuclear activists to demand a permanent shutdown of the oldest reactor, which was granted a 10-year extension in 2008 after 30 years of operation.
But their demand is misplaced, given that the International Atomic Energy Agency, after conducting a series of safety tests, approved the Kori power plant’s restart on Monday. The IAEA safety checks started on June 4 at the request of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power.
KHNP had to turn to the IAEA for an inspection, as residents and antinuclear activists turned down safety assurances by the nation’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.
By doing so, KHNP wanted to address public anger over the February power cutoff and a subsequent cover-up attempt ― which the IAEA team called the “inability to counter the errors in handling the station blackout event and the subsequent leadership failures in communication and reporting.” The IAEA team, which determined the main cause of the power cutoff was the worn-out pressure vessel in the reactor, demanded that it be replaced when it approved continued operation.
Antinuclear activists should be reminded that nuclear power will remain the backbone of the electricity supply for a long time to come, given its cost efficiency. Renewable energy sources other than hydroelectric power cannot replace nuclear power until after their prices are reduced to competitive levels. To secure a steady supply of electricity at low cost, the government and KHNP will have to continue to improve nuclear technology and safety.
KHNP cannot afford to delay the restart of the Kori plant indefinitely, given that the nation’s reserve capacity for power generation is woefully low ahead of a summer peak. Before the restart, KHNP will do well to meet residents on its renewed commitment to nuclear safety.