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Lawmaker claims reactor rules ignored

The government resorted to expedience and bypassed set inspection rules to extend the operational life of South Korea’s oldest nuclear reactor, an opposition lawmaker claimed Saturday.

Rep. Kim Young-hwan of the main opposition Democratic Party said when engineers tested the pressure vessel of the Gori-1 reactor in 2005, the critical system did not meet minimum safety requirements.

He also argued that reports indicated that weaknesses were discovered in the materials used in the reactors and the unit was vulnerable to extreme pressure and heat.

The reactor, which began commercial operations in April 1978, was originally designed with a life of 30 years. Inspectors, however, decided in early 2008 that it can be run for another 10 years and approved a plan to generate power up till 2017.

The allegations come as the 33-year-old Gori-1 reactor went into emergency shutdown late Tuesday after one of its circuit breakers malfunctioned. The incident has been classified as a “Type-0” minor event that does not have to be reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Kim said that to deal with such shortcomings in test results, the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., which operates the country’s 21 reactors, used an alternative reviewing system and received passing grades. He added that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology that oversees nuclear safety accepted the alternative test results, although it stated it was an exceptional case.

Related to concerns raised, the KHNP and the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety, together in charge of the country’s atomic safety, said the Gori-1 unit has been thoroughly examined and that most of its key parts, with the exception of the nuclear core, has been changed in the past 10 years.

“There is no real risk to the reactors and it is as safe as other units currently generating power,” the KHNP said. It said that the decision to extend its life was made after experts determined that the reactor met safety rules set by the IAEA and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

(Yonhap News)
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