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S. Korea Restarts Aged Reactor Despite Safety Concerns

8/6/2012 3:04 AM ET

One of South Korea's oldest nuclear reactors resumed operation on Monday after months-long scrutiny over its safety, amid an impending power shortage due to a record heat wave that sweeps the East Asian country.

Reactor-1 at the Gori Nuclear Power Plant in Busan, about 450 kilometers southeast of capital Seoul, is expected to reach its full generation capacity on Friday. "We are relieved the Gori reactor was restarted," Knowledge Economy Minister Hong Suk-woo told a press briefing on Monday.

The 578-megawatt reactor was manually shut down on March 12 after a major safety breach was noticed during a regular maintenance check the previous month, when the reactor along with its backup generator temporarily lost power.

The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission approved a restart of the reactor early last month after a near four-month safety inspection, during which an expert team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, also took a non-mandatory look at the reactor and confirmed its safety.

However, the reactor remained shut down following widespread public protests over its safety as its initial 30-year lifespan ran out but was extended by ten more years in 2008.

"Despite approval from the Safety Commission, the government delayed the restart of the reactor for over a month, considering concerns raised by residents from near the Gori plant," the Minister said and added that "I believe there is no problem with the (reactor's) safety. From the beginning, it was a matter of how safe people felt."

The sudden restart of the reactor that could supply nearly 0.5 percent of total electricity consumption in South Korea was apparently prompted, at least in part, by the possibility of a power shortage during the hot summer season, though the Minister said the decision was not made in haste.

South Korea's electricity reserve levels fell below two million kilowatts on Monday, far below the four million kilowatt level that is considered safe. "We are not restarting the reactor in haste. If we wanted to restart it quickly, we would've done so a month ago," South Korean media quoted Hong as saying.

South Korea currently has 23 operational reactors, supplying about 30 percent of its total electricity consumption.

by RTT Staff Writer

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