The government recommended Friday the state nuclear power operator permanently shut down the nation's oldest reactor when its operational license expires two years later, apparently caving in to strong opposition from residents and environmental groups over its safety.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy advised the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power to close the Kori-1 reactor located in the southeastern port city of Busan, as it was deliberating whether to apply for extending the life of the 38-year-old reactor before the deadline set for July 18.
"We concluded that the permanent shutdown of (the Kori-1) is appropriate for the mid- and long-term development of the nation's nuclear industry," Energy Minister Yong Sang-jick said after an energy commission meeting. "The ministry will deliver the recommendation to the KHNP."
Built in 1977, the 580-megawatt light water reactor extended its life by 10 years to 2017, but it has faced growing pressure from residents and civic groups over safety concerns in light of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan.
If the KHNP accepts the government's recommendation, it will be the first time that South Korea permanently closed a nuclear power plant, presenting a difficult challenge of decommissioning.
The latest move comes as residents and civic groups as well as politicians based in Busan have ratcheted up pressure on the government to block the nuclear plant operator's bid for another life extension.
During the meeting also attended by KHNP CEO Cho Seok, proponents of the continued operation stressed the economic benefit of using the existing facility.
Opponents argued that closing the Kori-1, which accounts for a mere 0.5 percent of the nation's total energy production, would not significantly lower the power generation rate and suggested its closure would pave the way for developing the decommissioning technology.
The ministry expected it would take at least 15 years to demolish the reactor, pledging to make legal frameworks and develop decommissioning technology to dispose nuclear wastes and reprocess spent nuclear fuel to prepare for its closure.
"The government will establish the nuclear industry infrastructure which covers all cycles ranging from construction, operation, demolition and nuclear waste management," Chung Yang-ho, a ministry official in charge of energy policy, said. "The government will proceed with building new nuclear power plants for stable power supply and communicate with residents to develop the nuclear industry in a way that contributes to the local economy."
There are 23 nuclear reactors producing about a third of the electrical energy for Asia's fourth-largest economy.
While 11 others are or will soon be under construction, the ministry recently announced a long-term energy plan to build two more nuclear power plants to have 36 plants by 2029 as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions. (Yonhap)