By Cho Jin-seo
The government said on Thursday that it will restart a 30-year-old nuclear reactor in Gori ― the first and the oldest in Korea ― despite protests from local residents and environmental groups.
The Ministry of Science and Technology said that it has decided to run the Gori 1 reactor in Busan for the next 10 more years as it has met all the technical and safety standards in a series of paper and on-site inspections. The reactor has been off since this June as it reached its initial lifespan of 30 years.
``It has satisfied all 112 categories of our safety standard. This is not a conditional approval,'' Moon byung-ryong, director general for Nuclear Safety at the Ministry of Science and Technology, said in a press briefing. ``Inspections and simulations proved that the reactor is good for the next 10 years.''
Built in 1977, the Gori 1 unit was Korea's first commercial reactor. Korea is planning to build more nuclear power plants to meet its growing energy demand.
South Korea depends heavily on nuclear power. About 40 percent of Korea's electricity supply is provided by 19 nuclear reactors, compared to the world's average of 15.7 percent.
Environmental groups and residents of nearby towns have opposed the life extension of the Gori 1 reactor, citing safety concerns such as a radioactive fuel leak or even a blowout.
``We cannot trust the government's one-way announcement,'' Hwangbo Mun-chan, leader of the protestors at Gijang county where the plant is located, was quoted as saying by Yonhap News.
He said that there have been 124 minor and major incidents over the past 30 years at the plant, which accounts for 20 percent of all incidents that took place at nuclear plants in Korea. He said his group will stage rallies at the plant site and at Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power headquarters next month.
The government, however, shrugged off the issues, insisting that the residents' main concern is money, not safety.
``Looking back at what has happened so far, it seems that the residents trust in the safety (of the reactor). Their demands are related to regional development and migration support. We believe that the plant's operator can handle the situation,'' director general Moon said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that there are 439 nuclear power reactors in the world, operating in 31 different countries. Thirty-seven of them are operating beyond their designed life span, while 119 reactors stopped operation after reaching their maximum age.