South Korea's nuclear watchdog delayed a decision on the operational license of a new nuclear reactor on Thursday as safety concerns remain nearly four months after shutting it down following a deadly toxic gas leak.
The state-run Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) said it will hold another meeting on April 23 to decide the fate of the Shin Kori-3 reactor, which has been dormant since late December after nitrogen gas was leaked from a construction site, killing three workers.
The 1,400-megawatt facility in Ulsan, located about 410 kilometers southeast of Seoul, has been awaiting approval from the watchdog and is 99 percent ready to begin commercial operation in June.
The NSSC's decision has drawn keen attention as the reactor is the reference model for APR 1400, which Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), the state-run power provider, exported to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2009.
KEPCO made an agreement with the UAE to start the commercial operation of Shin Kori-3 within September to demonstrate that it is fully operational. If the operation is delayed, KEPCO is subject to pay fines under the deal, which could set back South Korea's efforts to export nuclear reactors to the Middle East.
The latest move came as many questioned the safety of the new nuclear reactor amid mounting concerns over nuclear energy, especially after Japan's Fukushima disaster in 2011.
On Thursday, anti-nuclear activists held a rally in downtown Seoul to oppose the watchdog's decision.
"Shin Kori-3 Unit is a mega nuclear reactor that is seeking an operational license valid for 60 years, which is very rare globally," a coalition of nuclear activists and environmentalists said in a briefing.
"Although it is at the center of controversy, the government and KEPCO are trying to receive the operational approval in haste, raising concerns over the review process."
The NSSC in February extended the life span of a 32-year-old nuclear reactor, the nation's second-oldest, for another decade despite opposition from residents and environmental groups over lingering safety issues.
South Korea has 23 nuclear reactors in operation, from which it currently gets about 30 percent of its electricity supply, and is building several more as its industries heavily rely on imported energy sources. (Yonhap)