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Safety can be fabricated

May 28, 2013


South Korea idles 2 nuke plants after cable tests faked





SEOUL, South Korea--South Korea has idled two nuclear power plants after finding that test results for crucial control cables were falsified in a new blow to an industry mired in a graft scandal and safety lapses.

South Korea's trade and energy ministry said on May 28 a company contracted to conduct tests fabricated the results for cables that failed to meet international standards for capacity to withstand changes in voltage and pressure. It warned that the plant shutdowns would result in summer power shortages.

The cables control valves that are responsible for cooling nuclear fuel or preventing the release of radioactive materials during an emergency. Another four nuclear reactors that were either shut down for scheduled maintenance or under construction were also using cables that had failed the tests.

"If these control cables do not operate well during an emergency, we viewed that it would not guarantee to cool nuclear fuels or to shut off radioactive materials," South Korea's Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said in a statement.

It said the cables, which were in use since December 2011, failed nine of 12 tests pertinent to their operation in a "loss of coolant accident."

Han Jinhyun, vice trade and energy minister, declined to name the company while the government's investigation is ongoing. The ministry will sue the company and also ask prosecutors to launch a probe, he told a press conference.

The revelations add to public worries about nuclear safety and power shortages during the summer when demand is at its peak. They are a new blow to South Korea's ambitions to export its nuclear technology.

With the shutdown of the Shin-Kori No. 2 and Shin-Wolsong No. 1 reactors to replace cables, a total of 10 nuclear plants are now offline.

The minister said it would take around four months to replace the cables and warned "unprecedented power shortages" are expected in coming months.

"There is no means to increase power supply in the short term, so we expect we need to lower demand considerably to weather the crisis," he said.

Last year, the South Korean nuclear industry was rocked by revelations that thousands of components used in nuclear plants had falsified quality certificates. Dozens of employees at state owned nuclear power plant operator, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., were prosecuted for taking bribes from contractors to accept substandard parts and machinery.

The investigation into the cable problems began after the nuclear safety commission received tips through a whistleblowing channel that was set up in the wake of last year's scandal.

"This incident is more serious than previous scandals because it is wrongdoing by a company that is supposed to oversee products," said Kim Ik-jung, a medical professor at Dongguk University who has become prominent as an anti-nuclear activist since the government decided to build a nuclear waste dump in Gyeongju city where he lives.

"Corruption is widespread in the nuclear industry because there is no agency that can truly regulate Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power," he said.

South Korea has 23 nuclear power plants which supply about 30 percent of its energy and plans to add another 11 reactors by 2025.



South Korea Halts Operations at Reactors Over Faked Certificates
Published: May 28, 2013

Source : The New York Times


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea said on Tuesday that it was turning off two nuclear power reactors on Tuesday and delaying the scheduled start of operation at another two, after its inspectors discovered that the reactors used components whose safety certificates had been fabricated.

South Korea’s nuclear power industry has been plagued by a series of forced shutdowns, corruption scandals and mechanical failures in recent years, undermining public confidence in atomic energy even as the country’s dependence on it for electricity is expected to grow in coming years.

A anonymous whistle-blower led government investigators to uncover the latest problem, in which control cables had been supplied to four reactors with faked certificates even though the part had failed to pass a safety test, the country’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said on Tuesday. The control cable is used to send electronic signals to a reactor’s control system in the event of an accident.

The commission halted operations at two reactors on Tuesday so the problematic cables could be replaced. The planned start-up of two other reactors — one under a routine maintenance shutdown and the other a newly built reactor waiting for operational approval — will be delayed for the same reason.

South Korea currently has 23 reactors, and Tuesday’s decision meant that 10 reactors are temporarily offline for safety concerns, maintenance and other reasons, raising the risk of power shortages in the coming summer, when electricity consumption peaks.

The two reactors shut down on Tuesday are on the southeastern coast of South Korea and each has a capacity of 1,000 megawatts. The recurring scandals have damaged the reputation of South Korea’s nuclear power industry, which supplies one-third of the country’s electricity needs and aspires to become a global exporter of reactors.

Despite increasing public concern, however, the government remained determined to push ahead with its aggressive nuclear power program; by 2030, the country plans to add 16 more reactors.

Last year, South Korea was forced to shut down two reactors when it was revealed that thousands of substandard parts had been supplied with fake warranties for over 10 years. The country resorted to various power-saving measures to avoid blackouts. Several nuclear power engineers and parts suppliers were later jailed for involvement in the scandal.

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