Energy minister checks safety of reactors in quake-hit city

By Yonhap

Published : Sep 12, 2017 - 10:28
Updated : Sep 12, 2017 - 14:29

GYEONGJU -- South Korean Energy Minister on Tuesday checked the safety of nuclear reactors in Gyeongju to mark the first anniversary of the nation's largest recorded earthquake and vowed to step up anti-quake measures.

Paik Un-gyu visited Gyeongju, located 370 kilometers southeast of Seoul, to check an active fault line near the Wolsong No. 1 reactor and a nuclear waste disposal facility to check the safety in the quake-prone region. The epicenter of the 5.8 magnitude earthquake was not far from the nuclear facilities.

Safety concerns remain as over 600 aftershocks have taken place over the past year in the historic city, which houses six nuclear reactors and related facilities.

Experts have warned that recent earthquakes in nearby Japan could have destabilized the fault line in the Korean Peninsula, further raising anxiety among residents following Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. 
 

Paik Un-gyu, the chief of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, visits a fault line located near the epicenter of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Gyeongju in 2016 to mark the first anniversary of the nation`s largest recorded quake on Sept. 12, 2017, in this photo provided by the ministry. (Yonhap)


"Natural disasters like earthquakes could lead to grave disasters because the country's nuclear reactors are located near populous regions," Paik said. "The government will put the priority on the safety of people with strengthened anti-quake measures and shift the focus to safe and renewable energy resources."

To better predict seismic activities, the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, a state geological research institute, said it has been inspecting fault lines in the southeastern region to complete the process by 2021 and expand the study across the nation by 2041.

The policymaker said the government will come up with a comprehensive plan for its new energy policy by the end of this year, which will include a nuclear phase-out road map and investment plans for renewable resources.

The latest move was in line with President Moon Jae-in's pledge to scrap all existing plans for new nuclear reactors and cancel lifetime extensions for aged reactors to reduce reliance on nuclear power.

South Korea operates 24 reactors to supply about one-third of its electricity, making it the world's fifth-largest user of nuclear power.

As follow-up measures, a state commission was launched in July to collect public consensus on whether to continue to build new reactors on the country's southeast, temporarily halting construction of two new reactors in Ulsan, located 414 kilometers south of Seoul.

In a meeting with local residents and civic groups, Paik said the government will gather public opinions about the early closure of the Wolsong No. 1 reactor and the construction of a nuclear waste disposal facility for spent fuel.

The country's second-oldest nuclear reactor was shut in 2012 after 30 years of operation, and its life span was extended by another 10 years in 2015.

A decision to build a nuclear waste disposal repository for the heavy water reactor is imminent as an interim storage facility at Wolsong is expected to run out of space by early 2020, according to the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power.

"As an early closure of the Wolsong No. 1 reactor is currently under discussion, we ask for cooperation from local residents to push the plan forward without delay," Paik said. "We will listen to public opinion about a low- to medium-level nuclear waste repository to build a safe facility for residents." (Yonhap)

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation