Exact causes under probe; no threat to power supplies
By Park Si-soo
Two nuclear reactors at two separate atomic power plants stopped operating Tuesday due to unidentified technical problems. Although the authorities said there was no danger of radiation leaks, the shutdown of the two 1 million kilowatt reactors on the same morning only heightens uneasiness over the safety of nuclear power.
The stoppages happened just two weeks after a malfunction at the country’s second oldest Wolsong-1 reactor in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, due to problems related to power equipment linked to the reactor.
The halt of the two reactors didn’t pose any immediate risk of a power shortage at this time of year is when power demand is at its lowest, according to the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP),
The Shingori 1 Reactor in Busan shut down at 8:19 a.m. after a warning signal indicated a malfunction in the rods controlling the fission of nuclear material. Just hours later, Younggwang 5 Reactor at Younggwang Power Plant in South Jeolla Province stopped at around 10:45 a.m. after its steam generator showed a low water level.
An investigation into the exact cause of the two incidents is underway and the results will take two or three days, KHNP officials said. The two reactors will be able to resume operations by Friday or Saturday.
“Both power plants remain stable and pose no threat of a radiation leak,” a KHNP spokesman said. “The Shingori 1 is suspected to have stopped operations due to a malfunction of equipment controlling the fission of nuclear material. The exact cause of the stoppage at Younggwang 5 is still unclear.”
Shingori 1 went into operation in February last year and this is its first problem. The Younggwang reactor had another malfunction in February last year, the KHNP spokesman said.
Problems at reactors are fueling public fears over the safety of nuclear power, already heightened by the disaster in Japan in early 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami hit a power plant.
“Problems in the fission controller could lead to major accidents when coupled with other natural disasters or malfunctions,” said the Korean Federation of Environment Movement, a coalition of civic environmental groups, in a press release. “The KHNP and the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission must identify the fundamental problem and resolve people’s concerns.”
The KHNP spokesman underscored Korea’s supremacy in the safe operation of nuclear reactors, saying malfunctions at reactors here are still less frequent compared with those in the United States, France and other countries with advanced nuclear technology. “The risk (from local nuclear reactors) is exaggerated,” he said.
According to Nucleonics Week, a weekly American magazine specializing on nuclear affairs, Korea had two unplanned stoppages in 2010, while Japan had 16, Great Britain 30, the U.S. 101 and France 178.
Korea currently operates 23 nuclear reactors, supplying about 30 percent of its total electricity needs. It plans to build an additional 16 reactors by 2030.