By Park Si-soo
The country’s oldest nuclear reactor will be restored to operate at its full capacity to generate energy on Monday, ending a month-long suspension imposed amid growing safety concerns.
It comes three days after the government confirmed the safety of the 33-year-old Gori No. 1 nuclear reactor in Gijang, Busan, a port city 400 kilometers south of Seoul, which had been kept offline since April 12 due to an electrical glitch.
The accident, coupled with the worst nuclear crisis in neighboring Japan, triggered public unease over the safety of the outdated nuclear reactor, prompting the government to inspect all 21 nuclear reactors in the country.
“We started to resume operations of the reactor Friday afternoon in accordance with government approval and the reactor will reach its full capacity for power generation around 10 a.m. Monday,” said an official at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co., which operates all atomic power plants here. “We have gradually increased the capacity since operations were suspended for nearly one month. Everything has gone smoothly.”
Passing the safety check has authorized the Gori reactor, which met its initial lifespan of 30 years in 2007, to extend its operations for another 10 years until 2017.
The extension provoked politicians and activists who have called for the reactor’s closure. “We cannot trust the inspection result since it has been done with no inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency participating,” said Oh Kyu-suk, Gijang governor, calling for a re-inspection.
On top of the clearance, the government Friday unveiled measures to enhance the safety of nuclear reactors against natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami and other emergencies that could cause a radiation leak.
The government will spend 1 trillion won ($922 million) over the next five years to improve nuclear safety, said Education, Science and Technology Minister Lee Ju-ho.
“The money will be spent to make local reactors safe from the kind of damage that hit the Fukushima plant,” Lee said, referring to a Japanese nuclear plant crippled after a powerful earthquake and ensuing tsunami in March. “Upgrades will be carried out on 50 safety features and facilities.”
Related to the upgrades, the state-run Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS) said it will increase the number of radioactive detection centers to 120 from the current 71, while raising the existing seawall at the Gori reactor high enough to withstand a tsunami reaching 10 meters.
The KINS will also install mobile, water-proof power generators at all nuclear reactors in the event of a power failure by flooding.
The 21 nuclear reactors generate nearly 40 percent of the country’s entire energy requirements. The government plans to construct 14 more by 2024 to supply nearly half of the nation’s necessary energy from nuclear power.