|A nonprofit U.N. agency’s virtual go-ahead to prolong the operation of the nation’s oldest nuclear reactors has fueled controversy surrounding them instead of cooling it down.
As always, arguments, pro and con, are contrasting enough to throw any non-specialists into confusion.
Environmental groups and residents around the Gori-1 plant, some 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, downplay reviews from the International Atomic Energy Agency team, saying it was a mere formality to justify the government’s plan to extend its life. They take issue with the inspection period which only lasted a week, the eight-member team _ half of which are reportedly promoters of the nuclear industry _ and the IAEA’s track records, which include few, if any, cases of advising to suspend or close old reactors.
The government and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) refute those assertions point for point, stressing the U.N.-affiliated organ is the world’s top-level and last guarantor of nuclear safety, noting the team had reviewed documents for two months before arriving here, and cited some examples of the IAEA’s negative conclusions in the past.
Again, verifying the truth of these conflicting claims, much less reaching a conclusion on such a complicated matter as a nuclear plant’s safety, is well beyond the capacity of amateurs. Yet we can’t help but call for maximum caution when deciding their life extension for the following reasons.
Above all, nuclear power generation is less about the superiority of facilities and technical ability than about the people and culture of the operating organizations, such as their transparency and safety awareness. The KHNP and the government as its regulator have left much room to be desired in this regard when the de facto state utility hid the plant’s partial breakdown for 12 days and officials were not given even the slightest hint as to what was happening.
Corruption of officials in the public corporation, as seen in the purchase and use of knock-off parts by receiving bribes, is another adverse effect of the closed, opaque organizational culture of the state monopoly. It takes time of course to change the corporate culture of a company like the KHNP with a long history. But Koreans have yet to hear a sincere apology from the company’s executives except some outrageous excuses, such as localized parts were as good as genuine foreign products and the failure to report problems was to minimize ill effects on the industry.
All this is hardly enough for people, especially local residents, to shake off unease and concerns about the officials’ hurry to restart the worn-out, problem-ridden reactors.
The residents are right to demand a joint re-inspection of the plant by a team that includes their representatives and third-party experts, and conduct a high-intensity “stress test” _ a computerized assessment of a nuclear plant’s ability to withstand a worst-case natural disaster _ like their German and Japanese counterparts did.
We know the generation capacity of Gori-1 plant, while accounting for only 1 percent of the total, is essential to prevent a blackout during peak energy consumption in the summertime. But that should never be a reason for a hurried restart.
In this industry, even one hundredth of a percent of uncertainty means potential disaster. Fukushima taught us that.
6월 13일 (수) The Korea Times 사설