South Korea

South Korea shuts down two nuclear reactors after system malfunctions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 4:14am


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South Korea shut down two 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactors at separate plants yesterday, following apparently unrelated system malfunctions that triggered calls for a safety review.

"Both power plants remain stable and pose no threat of radiation leakage," state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) said, adding investigations were under way to determine the cause of malfunctions.

A KHNP spokesman said there was "no correlation" between the two incidents - at Yeonggwang on the southwest coast and Shingori on the southeast coast. The Shingori reactor, near Busan, was shut down after a warning signal in the morning.

"There was a malfunction in the reactor's control rod, but the reactor is now stable," the spokesman said.

It is the first time the reactor has been shut down since it began operations in February last year.

In the other incident at the Yeonggwang plant, a reactor automatically shut down after its steam generator showed a low water level.

In July, a different 1,000-MW reactor at Yeonggwang - 260 kilometres south of Seoul - went into automatic shutdown after a malfunction.

The South Korean government has vowed to stick to its nuclear power programme despite public concerns arising from last year's nuclear disaster in Japan.

Doubts over safety standards were fuelled in May when five senior engineers were charged with trying to cover up a potentially dangerous power failure at South Korea's oldest nuclear plant.

The five, including a 55-year-old chief engineer at the Gori-1 reactor, were accused of violating a law on nuclear safety.

The reactor, built in 1978 near Busan, briefly lost mains power on February 9 and the emergency generator failed to kick in. The power cut caused cooling water to stop circulating.

Following yesterday's shutdowns, the Korean Federation of Environment Movement, a coalition of civic environmental groups, called for a further review of safety standards.

"By good fortune, there was no radiation leak, but the frequent stoppage of nuclear power plants is a bad sign," the group said. "Problems in the control rod - a key safety feature to control nuclear fission - could lead to major accidents when coupled with other natural disasters or malfunctions.

"The KHNP and the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission must identify the fundamental problem and resolve the people's fundamental concerns."