Fresh concerns have arisen over the safety of nuclear power and the likelihood of further power shortages after authorities found more faulty parts at two reactors under construction.
The Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation said Wednesday that disputed control cables at Ulsan’s Shin-Kori reactors 3 and 4 failed a reevaluation.
The replacement of the 920-kilometer-long cables is to cause a delay in the completion of the reactors of at least six month to a year. The delay is likely to cause further power shortages next summer, observers say.
During a parliamentary audit of state agencies in charge of nuclear power management held Thursday, lawmakers from rival parties accused government officials of putting the nation at risk of nuclear hazards.
The government and state-run nuclear reactor operators should tighten discipline and sternly punish officials embroiled in scandals, they said.
“The failure of the control cables seems to be a man-made, foreseen disaster,” said Rep. Lee Woo-hyun of the ruling Saenuri Party. “Even after the corruption scandal, KHNP only slapped (involved) officials on the wrist,” he said.
A total of 118 corruption cases involving KHNP officials have been reported since 2008, Rep. Chang Byeong-hwan of the main opposition Democratic Party said at the audit session held by the Science, ICT, Future Planning, Broadcasting and Communications Committee.
So far, about 100 officials from the state-run nuclear power plant operator, parts suppliers and certifiers have also been indicted on charges of forgery and corruption. The nuke graft scandal was first reported in May shortly after atomic reactors were suddenly halted due to substandard parts and fraudulent quality certifications. The scandal involves officials from KHNP and Korea Electric Power Corp., as well as their suppliers and certifiers who were found to have colluded to falsify test certificates for parts and materials.
The newly discovered faulty parts in Ulsan’s Shin-Kori Reactors 3 and 4 were manufactured by JS Cable and certified by Saehan TEP, both of which had been involved in the nuclear corruption scandal earlier in the year.
The construction delay of two major nuclear reactors due to faulty cables is expected to cause more than 3 trillion won ($2.8 billion) in losses, according to the state-run nuclear power supplier.
The new KHNP chief Cho Seok, during the parliamentary inspection session on Thursday, pledged to have all the disputed cables replaced within a year. Nonetheless, a delay is expected for the operation launch of the two reactors, originally slated for next August and September.
Replacing the cables alone is expected to cost about 36 billion won. This, combined with the cost of purchasing extra electricity, will amount to 3.7 trillion won, according to KEPCO.
The Shin-Kori reactor situation is also triggering concerns over the nuclear reactors currently under construction in the United Arab Emirates, which use the same model.
In 2010, under then-President Lee Myung-bak, the Korean government signed a $20 billion deal to build four nuclear reactors in the Gulf region.
Lawmakers at the parliamentary review session warned the officials that their actions had generated deep distrust among people over the safety of nuclear power.
Rep. Kim Ki-hyun of Saenuri urged the government to come up with countermeasures and establish a new system to ensure the safety of nuclear reactors under construction.
“The government must set up a system to prevent officials from being involved in another corruption case and taking a lackadaisical attitude,” he said.
A presidential committee on nuclear safety also came under fire for ignoring the situation.
“The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission remains irresponsible although it has ultimate responsibility for the safety of nuclear power reactors. If (the commission) wants to have nothing but power, it is better it is disbanded,” said Rep. Choi of the DP.
Meanwhile, a recent study suggested the government cut the nation’s reliance on nuclear power, pointing to a growing public distrust of the industry and the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
The report, which involved 60 representatives from industry, academic institutions and civic bodies, recommended the government reduce energy reliance on nuclear power to between 22 percent and 29 percent, substantially lower than the state plan of 41 percent by 2030. Korea currently generates one-third of its electricity from nuclear power.
By Cho Chung-un and Bae Hyun-jung