Reactor safety in doubt
Time to prevent recurrence of glitches
Concerns are growing over the safety of nuclear power plants since a reactor went without electrical power for about 12 minutes. The incident took place at the Gori Nuclear Power Plant in the southeastern port city of Busan on Feb. 9. It has raised serious questions about the nation’s safety system for nuclear power generation.
Such a power failure cannot and should not occur again. It might lead to grave consequences reminiscent of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant following a devastating earthquake and tsunami a year ago.
The Gori case demonstrated how loose a nuclear safety network the nation has. Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), the state-run operator, totally disregarded regulations on how to deal with glitches and malfunctions. It should have reported the incident to the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission immediately.
But the KHNP kept the case secret for more than a month. This implies that the company had apparently tried to cover up the power cut in a bid to shirk responsibility for the glitch.
It also violated its safety manual by arbitrarily resuming the reactor operation. It might have felt no need to get approval from the commission because it did not report the case. The sole consolation, if any, was that the malfunction happened during a month-long safety inspection.
The commission should form a fact-finding mission to verify allegations about the cover-up attempt. Then it must take stern action against those accountable for the violation of safety regulations and the failure to take timely and adequate steps. The authorities are required to have zero tolerance for those who have no sense of safety and responsibility.
The KHNP and the regulator had better pay more attention to the Gori plant as its reactors are in operation beyond its 30-year life span. The reactors began producing electricity in 1978. Officials have repeatedly said that there is no problem with the aged reactors.
However, overconfidence could lead to blunders. It is hard to make sure that the Gori episode has nothing to do with the Lee Myung-bak administration’s hard push for a nuclear renaissance. The government plans to build 10 more nuclear plants by 2022 to raise the share of nuclear power over the nation’s total electricity supply to 59 percent from the present 36 percent.
It is inevitable for Korea with little energy resources to increase its reliance on nuclear power. But its nuclear policy cannot get anywhere without guaranteeing safety. More than 100 glitches and malfunctions were reported over the past 10 years. Corrupt officials even purchased used parts for reactors with no regard to nuclear safety.
We urge the Lee administration to take bolder steps to establish a watertight safety system before building more nuclear reactors. It should keep in mind that the success of its nuclear policy depends on safer operations.