By Lee Tae-hoon
An opposition lawmaker said Sunday that Korea’s nuclear reactors suffered 89 stoppages over the past 10 years due to malfunctions.
Citing data obtained from the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), Rep. Noh Young-min of the main opposition Democratic Party claimed that the suspensions of operations caused 333 billion won ($299 million) in lost sales.
“The figures show there have been serious safety risks and economic losses as a result of abnormal operations at nuclear reactors,” he said.
Korea is the world’s fifth largest nuclear power producer and the second-largest in Asia.
The country currently operates 21 nuclear reactors, which provide about 40 percent of the national power supply.
The two-term lawmaker claimed that six nuclear reactors located in Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province, went offline 39 times; four reactors in Yeonggwang, South Jeolla Province, 25 times; four reactors in Gori, Busan, 14 times; reactors in Weolseong, North Gyeongsang Province, 11 times. New Gori No. 1, the latest nuclear reactor which began commercial operations in February this year, was not covered in the KHNP report.
He said the No. 3 and No. 4 reactor of the Uljin plant have “grave” safety problems, as the No. 3 reactor alone saw operations suspended 10 times, while No. 4 stopped eight times due to malfunctions.
Noh also noted that the No. 5 reactor at the Yeonggwang plant, which set off an alarm over a possible radiation leak due to a defect in its drain valve in 2008, had been stopped twice this year alone.
The KHNP, however, claimed in its report that none of the country’s 21 reactors have created serious problems, such as a radiation leak, noting that the past malfunctions were caused by minor mechanical problems or simple operational mistakes.
The debate has flared up on the safety of nuclear power plants, following Japan’s devastating nuclear plant accident in Fukushima.
Some observers also point out that South Korea should step up its defenses against possible terrorist or North Korean attacks on its nuclear facilities.
Environmental activists say Seoul should consider shutting down some of the aging nuclear reactors earlier than planned and scrap its plan to build more reactors to prevent a possible disaster.