Actions against Kori 1 Reactor Restart Spread in South Korea ～Closure Demanded～ Nuke Info Tokyo No. 150
by Satoshi Takano *
12-minute station blackout
The controversy was initiated by a March 13 news release from the Nuclear Safety Commission, a governmental authority of the Republic of Korea. It reported that Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), a publicly run enterprise that operates nuclear power plants in South Korea, had had a station blackout accident at the Kori Nuclear Power Plant during a periodical inspection of the Kori 1 reactor. The enterprise tested the Kori 1 power generator protection relay with all of the three external power sources mistakenly disconnected due to staff error, the power supply being completely cut off. The diesel generator, which was supposed to start up automatically in this situation, was out of order and did not operate. The blackout continued for 12 minutes, and the temperature of the cooling water in the reactor rose from 36.9°C to 58.3°C, a 21°C increase. This accident calls to mind the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors following a station blackout. What makes this Kori 1 accident all the more serious is that it occurred on February 9, which means, to everybody’s surprise, that KHNP had covered it up for more than a month.
Kori 1 is the oldest nuclear reactor in South Korea. It started commercial operation in 1978 and was scheduled to be shut down in 2007. Its service life was extended for ten years, however, and operation has continued until today.
Locals and people from other areas of the nation surround the reactor station together
In response to the news release of the accident and cover-up, the Busan Anti-Nuclear Civic Measures Committee, which consists mainly of environmental conservation organizations and citizens’ groups in Busan, held a press conference in front of the main gate of the Kori Nuclear Power Plant on the day after the release, denouncing KHNP. On March 20, a press conference was held in front of the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office. The Committee said, “KHNP has repeatedly claimed that ‘Nuclear reactors are safe’ every time there is an accident, and it has actually had many accidents. The enterprise has never accepted our demand for improvements in transparency and objectivity concerning the management and regulation of nuclear power reactors.” The Committee sharply criticized the organizational culture of the enterprise in covering up a serious accident that could have jeopardized the lives and security of the South Korean population, and demanded serious punishment for the people concerned.
Nevertheless, neither the South Korean government nor KHNP show any sign of relenting on their policy of keeping Kori 1 in service and restarting it after a safety review. On April 28, in protest against this policy, citizens gathered at the Kori Nuclear Power Plant site from Seoul and all over South Korea by bus. A total of more than 600 people, including locals, created a human chain completely surrounding the plant, and called out for the closure of Kori 1.
Regulatory authorities and IAEA turn down locals
In May, the regulatory authorities, the Nuclear Safety Commission and the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety, individually announced that they would perform safety reviews before June 20. However, both the review teams were highly exclusive in terms of personnel and failed to reflect local views.
At the request of KHNP, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sent a team of eight experts, which reviewed the safety of Kori 1 from June 4th to 11th. Concurrently with the IAEA’s visit and review, the Busan Anti-Nuclear Civic Measures Committee organized various events, such as an anti-nuclear film festival and anti-nuclear culture festival between June 1 and 9, designating this period it as an “anti-nuclear week.” The culture festival criticized the IAEA for representing only parties that are promoting nuclear power and paying no attention to the opinions of local people.
“The plant is in good condition.” The conclusion of the IAEA’s investigation was, as expected, in favor of the government and KHNP. In response to this conclusion, locals in the vicinity of the Kori Nuclear Power Plant expressed their dissatisfaction, pointing out that the review was neither thorough nor persuasive. “Four of the eight IAEA reviewers work for the nuclear industry, and only two are plant maintenance specialists. The period spent on the review was too short and the results are not reliable.”
Nuclear power advocates have no reactor decommissioning policy
While nuclear power advocates and those against nuclear power have few opportunities to exchange opinions, both sides were represented at a symposium organized by the Parliamentary Members’ Study Group for a Nuclear-free Future for Children in Seoul on June 22.
Mr. Lee Heonseok, who is special assistant to the Unified Progressive Party diet member Kim Jenam, said: “If the Kori Nuclear Power Plant is closed, issues concerning reactor decommissioning, such as the procedures, methods, economic cost, and radioactive waste disposal sites would need to be discussed.” This argument precisely identifies the disadvantageous truth for the KHNP, which unquestionably wants to avoid such discussion.
Specifically, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) estimated the cost for decommissioning Kori 1 to be 325.1 billion won (290 million USD) in 2003. However, even the IAEA estimates the cost to be 1 trillion won (roughly 890 million USD), more than three times the MKE estimate. These estimates do not include the cost of radioactive waste disposal and compensation for local residents. The reason why the South Korean government and KHNP are so insistent on restarting the reactor may possibly be because they fear that their political failure will become apparent; they have totally failed to establish the legal and systematic procedures for decommissioning and have not correctly calculated the economic cost.
Responding to Mr. Lee’s argument, a KHNP representative boldly revealed its surprisingly slack risk management culture at the symposium: “We have never had an accident but have only experienced machine failures.” “Kori 1 has had components replaced many times and can actually be compared to a new reactor.” “No one has died of radioactivity as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident.”
The Nuclear Safety Commission eventually approved the restart of Kori 1 on July 4. This means that MKE can restart it at anytime. The MKE has not yet restarted it, however, stating that it is necessary to gain the understanding of local people (as of July 11). According to a poll, 72.4% of the Busan population is frightened about the restart, and 66.9% is in favor of the closure of Kori 1.
The ultimate question is whether MKE will be able to resolve the disbelief and anxiety about Kori 1 that now weigh heavily upon the shoulders of the local people.