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Shutdown of reactors fuels concern over power shortage
SEOUL, Nov. 7 (Yonhap) -- Concern over possible power shortages during winter flared up Wednesday as South Korea was forced to halt the operation of two nuclear reactors for at least two months to replace substandard parts.

   The Ministry of Knowledge Economy announced Monday it was temporarily shutting down two reactors at Yeonggwang Nuclear Power Plant on Monday due to the extensive use of substandard parts in the reactors.

   The cold season does not usually see as great an increase in electricity consumption as during the summer months as oil or coal are more commonly used for heating than electric heaters.

   Still, the shutdown of two 1-million-kilowatt reactors, which together account for nearly 4 percent of the country's total electricity supply, is expected to seriously undermine the government's efforts to maintain the power reserve at above what it considers to be a safe level of 4 percent.

   The ministry said replacing more than 7,000 substandard parts that were used in the two nuclear reactors under fake quality warranties will not be completed until at least the end of the year. The power reserve rate stood at 11 percent as of 11 a.m. Wednesday.

   "The decision to halt the two nuclear reactors came as the government believed it would be better to cope with a little inconvenience than keep operating the reactors with fears," a ministry official said.

   "The cut in power supply due to the suspension of the reactors will create some inconveniences, but they will not be too difficult to cope with."

   Making matters worse, the head of the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), Kim Joong-kyum, offered to step down, apparently due to reasons unrelated to the incident with the nuclear reactors.

   Market observers believe a change of leadership at the country's sole electricity service provider may hamper government efforts, especially in times of such a crisis, to maintain the supply at safe levels.

   It was not immediately known why Kim offered to resign but observers believe it may have to do with his conflicts with top government officials during KEPCO's failed attempt this year to raise electricity rates by a double digit figure.

   Yielding to strong government opposition, partly from the economy ministry that also oversees the country's energy affairs, KEPCO settled for a 4.9 percent hike instead.

   KEPCO later sought to file a 4.4 trillion won (US$4 billion) damage suit against the state-run electricity distributor, the Korea Power Exchange, but was again discouraged by the ministry, which said such a move could disrupt the energy market.