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Korea may close old reactors

All nuclear power facilities to undergo safety inspection

The Korean government will conduct a safety inspection on nuclear power plants in the country amid growing worries about the radiation leaks in Japan. Officials said they may shut down reactors if they fail to meet safety standards.

In a nuclear power committee meeting Monday, presided over by Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, participants decided to inspect the 21 nuclear reactors in operation and other atomic facilities over the coming month, especially those dating back to the 1980s or before.

The prime minister said that those which turn out to be outdated and insecure will be shut down.

“We should learn lessons from the unfortunate radiation leaks in Japan and prepare ourselves for all kinds of accidents,” he said.

This determined stance was an unprecedented one as the government previously hinted that the national nuclear energy policy would not be swayed by the Japanese disaster.

While worries continue over the safety of older nuclear reactors, the Busan Bar Association declared on Monday that it would file for an injunction stopping the operation of an older reactor at the Kori Nuclear Power Site in Busan.

“We agreed that immediate measures are to be taken against the nuclear reactor 1, which has already outlived its planned operation life by 30 years,” said Kang Dong-kyu, chairman of the BBA’s environmental committee.

“The outdated reactor poses a great threat to the safety of the residents in the areas around it.”

Legal processes are to take place as early as mid-April, once the necessary documents are ready, Kang said.

“It is not our intention, however, to deny the national policy concerning nuclear energy,” the lawyer explained.

“The legal steps will, at least, enforce the government to open up the information about the Kori plant and thus satisfy the citizens’ rights to know.”

So far, concerned civic groups have in vain requested for detailed information on the nuclear plant, he said.

Korea’s nuclear power industry presently stands as the world’s fifth-largest and the second largest in Asia.

A total of 21 nuclear reactors are currently in operation, providing some 40 percent of the nation’s power supply.

The local public’s fear about earthquakes and possible radioactive leaks was further exacerbated Monday as an unusual 3.2-magnitude earthquake was detected on Monday morning in the sea east off Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province.

The quake was the 20th to shake the peninsula this year and also the second strongest, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration.

Though the KMA stated that no visible damage was inflicted, the quake brought uneasiness as the port city of Pohang is located some 150 kilometers from Busan.

Also, the state-run Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety said Monday that slight traces of mid-air Xenon-133 have been detected in Gangwon Province since last Wednesday.

The concentration reached 0.878 becquerel per cubic meter, which is well-below the average per hour radiation level and way insufficient to affect the human body or the environment, according to the KINS.

The radioactive by-product, nevertheless, raised concern here as the substance is speculated to have moved from Fukushima through the Russian Peninsula of Kamchatka to Alaska and Siberia, before reaching neighboring Korea.

Similar detections of Xenon-133 were reported in the northern parts of the United States a week after the first explosions took place.

The KINS and the KMA are also of the opinion that further radioactive substances are to land here next week, after circulating the northern hemisphere, according to officials.

The KMA plans to collect daily air samples from some 20 spots across the country to get a better picture of radiation levels, officials also said.

By Bae Hyun-jung (