Renewable energy is imperative in the long term
The Seoul Administrative Court has ordered the nuclear safety regulator to cancel its decision to extend the operation of the Wolseong-1 reactor in Gyeongju, about 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul. The ruling, made Tuesday, is the first court decision to put the brakes on the extension of a reactor's operating life.
The court ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by more than 2,000 nearby residents, saying the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) failed to follow due legal procedure. For example, the NSSC didn't submit comparison tables on changes for the continued operation of the reactor stipulated in relevant safety laws while pushing for its extension, the court said.
Wolseong-1, the country's second-oldest nuclear reactor, began generating power in 1983. It was shut down in 2012 after ending its 30-year commercial operation period. The NSSC lengthened its operational life for another 10 years in February 2015 in response to a request by the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), which owns the plant. Three months later, local residents and civic groups filed a lawsuit calling for the regulator's decision to be nullified.
Given that the operating licenses of eight reactors now in operation will expire over the next 10 years, the ruling will inevitably cause far-reaching repercussions. The nuclear industry claims that most reactors can be in operation in excess of their design lifespan, and the nuclear plant operator supports this. The NSSC said it will appeal the ruling, saying it undertook the proper decision-making process before deciding to extend the reactor's lifespan.
The ruling should be respected, considering the big calamity that decrepit reactors could cause, as was evidenced from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The plant operator might need to suspend the operation of Wolseong-1, a pressurized heavy water reactor, until a final ruling, given our affordable power supply and demand situation recently.
In fact, the NSSC appears to have made the extension decision too hastily in February 2015 without addressing safety concerns. Following a 14-hour meeting, all seven government-appointed members of the commission voted to approve the license extension after two dissenters left the conference room.
It's only a myth that atomic power plants are safe. The 5.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Gyeongju last November reminded the public that a nuclear disaster could become a reality in the country's southeastern region where nuclear power plants are concentrated.
The ruling is also a wakeup call to the need to bring Korea in line with the global trend since the Fukushima disaster, replacing atomic power with renewable energy. Given the country's high dependency on nuclear power to meet its electricity demand, scrapping them over a short period of time is next to impossible. Nonetheless, it's imperative to boost renewable energy in the long term.