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​S. Korea approves $7bn nuclear reactor plan

Published time: January 29, 2014 12:48
The new Shin Kori No. 3 reactor of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) is seen in Ulsan, about 410 km (255 miles) southeast of Seoul, September 3, 2013. (Reuters/Lee Jae-Won)

The new Shin Kori No. 3 reactor of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) is seen in Ulsan, about 410 km (255 miles) southeast of Seoul, September 3, 2013. (Reuters/Lee Jae-Won)

South Korea has given a green light to a $7 billion project to build two nuclear reactors by 2020. It’s the first approval since a safety scandal that led to the shutdown of several working nuclear reactors over fake documents last year.

The construction of Shin Kori Reactor Unit 5 and Shin Kori Reactor Unit 6 is due to be completed by December 2020, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) said in a press release, reports South Korea's Yonhap news agency. The plan [for construction] was approved on January 23.

The reactors (both APR-1400 Advanced Power Reactors) will be located at Kori Nuclear Power Complex near the southeastern city of Busan, 330km from Seoul. The generation capacity of both reactors will be over 1.4 million kilowatts, according to MOTIE.

The approval of the government comes a few weeks after MOTIE announced a policy change to reduce the country's reliance on nuclear power to 29 percent of total power supply by 2035, instead of a planned 41 percent by 2030.

South Korea had to curb its nuclear power generation after a ‘fake documents’ scandal in May 2013, when a supply of unauthorized ‘non-core equipment’ (cooling fans, cables and switches, which require international certification) was revealed. The parts were supplied with fake safety certificates. As a result, Seoul had to halt the operations of two nuclear power reactors in Kori and Wolseong Nuclear Power Plants to replace unauthorized equipment. In addition, the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission also delayed the restart of operations at two other reactors that were closed in 2012, also over forged documents. After the scandal, six nuclear engineers and equipment suppliers were handed prison sentences.

In recent years Asia’s fourth-largest economy has seen several shutdowns of its reactors due to various reasons.

Early Wednesday morning the 1,000-megawatt Reactor Unit 5 at the Hanul Nuclear Power Plant in western Uljin County halted operations after a warning signal came on, according to Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co (KHNP) officials.

It’s not the first time this exact reactor has shut down. In July, 2013 it ceased operating due to what the state-run operator termed “human error.”

Wednesday’s technical glitch took the number of reactors closed to four, increasing the risk of power shortages over winter.

The latest reactor closure adds to two others shut down for scheduled maintenance and one awaiting an extension of its license after its 30-year lifespan expired in November 2012, according to the nuclear operator, which is owned by state-run Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO).

South Korea, which ranks fifth globally in nuclear power generation, has 23 nuclear reactors operated through KEPCO. The reactors satisfy over 30 percent of the country’s total electricity consumption and the country even plans to build 11 more by 2024.

The approval of Shin Kori-5 and -6 will also encourage South Korea's nuclear power industry, which still aims to export its products into a global market which is currently largely dominated by France, the United States and Russia.

Seoul is now attempting to emerge from the shadow of Japan's nuclear disaster on Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March, 2011. That plant still releases substantial amounts of radioactive materials. Only several days ago an amount of radioactive water leaked from one of the damaged reactors, according to operator TEPCO.