It seems many countries in Asia are making dramatic U-turns when it comes to nuclear energy. News just broke that South Korea is about to restart Kori-1, the country’s oldest nuclear reactor, after a four-month closure. This news follows a recent announcement that Japan will be reactivating its nuclear power stations which were shut off in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Unsurprisingly, South Korea’s decision has been met with protests from local residents and environmental groups.
Located in Busan, the Kori-1 reactor was shut down on 13 March after it was revealed that the reactor and its emergency generator had “temporarily lost power during routine maintenance”. This had caused the coolant temperature to rise — as well as anxiety levels among the local population.
While an accident did not occur, an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna discovered that senior engineers from Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, who oversee the reactor, had been negligent and this had resulted in assorted safety problems and the loss of power.
However, after a new safety check, the IAEA have the green light for Kori-1 to be restarted and recommence operations. Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) also approved the restart, and on July 4th, Kori-1 was switched back on.
Opposition to the reactor’s restart has not only been limited to South Korea. Hiromitsu Ino, an emeritus professor of materials science at the University of Tokyo, has said that Kori-1 is not safe to operate because the weld material in the pressure vessel has degraded. “Any 50 nuclear power plants in Japan are much better than Kori-1,” he told the Nature journal.
Il Soon Hwang, a nuclear scientist at Seoul National University, concurs and has said that a more thorough investigation is needed, in order to check that the pressure vessel is safe. However, he adds that a more democratic process is needed to get a consensus on the reactor from local residents. “The most serious issue is that staff in the control room decided not to report the more than ten minutes of blackout and tried to hide this accident,” added Hwang.
The country of South Korea currently has 23 nuclear reactors in operation and three more under construction. 35% of the country’s power comes from nuclear energy. Kori-1 was given an operational lifespan of 30 years when it was first opened, and that ran its course by 2007.
Via Nature Journal