The Korea Herald


Kori-1 nuclear power plant waiting for final approval to resume operation

By Korea Herald

Published : July 2, 2012 - 19:31

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The nation’s oldest nuclear power plant, Kori-1 (KNHP) The nation’s oldest nuclear power plant, Kori-1 (KNHP)

Experts say putting the nation’s first nuclear plant back into action will relieve power shortage

Controversy is growing again over resuming the operation of the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant Kori-1, which was shut down on March 13 following an abrupt power cut early this year.

The Kori-1 plant, which began operation in 1978 in the northern part of Busan, had completed its scheduled life span in 2007. But it was granted a 10-year extension in 2008 after an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The plant, however, caused safety concerns in February when one of its two reactors temporarily lost power during a safety check.

Even though the power cut did not lead to any damage, public uproar was triggered after it came to light that engineers had tried to cover up the mishap. Its operations were suspended on March 13 indefinitely. 
Engineers check turbine generator systems at the Kori-1 plant. (KNHP) Engineers check turbine generator systems at the Kori-1 plant. (KNHP)

Amid disputes deepening here, the operator, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. requested that the IAEA conduct a separate safety inspection last month.

An eight-member expert team, led by Miroslav Lipar, the head of the IAEA’s industry safety department, reviewed the facilities for eight days.

Upon completing the inspection on June 11, they said they found no problems with the emergency generator used at the Kori-1 and other systems were working properly.

About the power failure in February, they pointed out that the KNHP management lacked leadership in dealing with the situation properly.

The government has made it clear that the plant’s operation will be delayed unless its safety is secured. Its separate inspection, which took place on June 11-22, also confirmed the IAEA’s results.

With the final report from the IAEA expected to come out soon, the KNHP shows confidence about the operation’s resumption.

The state-run nuclear power operator KNHP claims that citizens should wait for the IAEA’s final report and listen to the opinions of experts rather than insisting on the immediate shutdown of the plant.

The agency said the 2008 operation resumption had been decided with the consensus of local residents after the IAEA’s safety inspection. The plant also has a record of having no technical failure in the five consecutive check-ups since 2006.

However, the city government of Busan and environmentalists still resist fiercely, saying eight days seemed not enough to inspect a large-scale nuclear plant like the Kori-1.

“The IAEA had been informed about the plant even before our inspection request. Because they had already reviewed the situation for about two months, the eight-day on-site inspection was enough,” said a KNHP official.

About other claims that the IAEA represents the interests of the nuclear power industry more than of the social good, the agency also refuted that the IAEA is a non-profit organization aimed at promoting the peaceful use of nuclear power.

“The IAEA is a United Nations-affiliated group which has carried out some 160 safety inspections in 30 countries. All countries recognize the agency’s expertise,” the official said.

In 1998 when the IAEA raised safety issues about a nuclear power plant located in Kazakhstan, the nation’s regulatory authorities ordered the shutdown of the facilities in the next year.

If the safety issue is guaranteed, the KNHP believes that nuclear power is one of the most efficient energy sources, especially now when the nation is expected to face potential electricity shortages.

This year the nation’s electricity reserves plummeted twice below the 4 million-kilowatt threshold that obliges the government to issue initial emergency alerts.

The agency said that the Kori-1 plant with a capacity of 600,000 kilowatts will be helpful to largely relieving the worst-ever power shortage.

“If the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, which makes a final decision, approves, the Kori-1 should restart operation. Opposition, based on political goals, has problems,” said an official at a local research institute.

“The Kori-1 will help increase the nation’s power reserves. Due to preventive measures such as control of operation hours, the costs companies have to bear on electricity consumption have already started growing.”

The KNHP added that internationally major countries have also approved the operation of an aging nuclear plant when its safety is confirmed.

Of the total 435 nuclear plants globally, 178 units have been operated for more than 30 years and another 32 units for 40 years or more. There are 62 facilities under construction currently.

The United States has extended the life span of a facility from 40 years to 60 years and other countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan have renewed operational licenses on a regular basis.

In preparations for the Kori-1’s operation approval, the KNHP are stepping up efforts to secure the safety operation of nuclear facilities.

The agency has carried out check-ups on nuclear plants aged 20 years or more, while transferring the goals of management guidelines from increasing effectiveness to tightening safety and emergency response.

The government has also adopted diverse measures to secure nuclear safety in general amid growing public concerns since a devastating tsunami hit the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant in March last year.

With a budget of about 1.1 trillion won ($961 million) being poured by 2015, officials will make nuclear plants resistant to natural disasters such as earthquakes and high tides, while strengthening readiness for emergency situations.

By Lee Ji-yoon (