(3rd LD) S. Korea suspends operation of four nuclear reactors due to fake parts
SEOUL, May 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea halted the operation of two nuclear reactors Tuesday, while also delaying the scheduled operation of two other reactors for substandard parts used in the reactors.
Neither the shutdown of the reactors nor the substandard parts used in them posed immediate threats to public safety, according to the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.
However, the shutdown of the reactors was expected to cause what the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy called an "unprecedented problem" in supplying electricity ahead of the summer peak season.
The commission said it has shut down two reactors -- the Shin Kori Reactor 2 and Shin Wolsong Reactor 1 -- after learning that substandard control cables that had been supplied under fake quality warranties had been used in the reactors.
The commission has also suspended the scheduled resumption of the operation of the Shin Kori Reactor 1, which had been undergoing regular maintenance.
In addition, the new Shin Wolsong Reactor 2, which is currently under a review for the start of its commercial operation, will not be allowed to begin operation until all substandard parts have been replaced, it said.
There was no danger of a radiation leak, but the shutdown of two nuclear reactors that are currently in operation posed a serious problem for the supply of electricity, especially ahead of the summer season when electricity consumption usually surges to an annual high.
The country currently operates 23 reactors, supplying about 30 percent of its total electricity consumption. Shutting down two nuclear reactors that are currently generating electricity meant a significant drop in the country's power reserve levels.
With the shutdown of the reactors, the country's total generation capacity is expected to drop to about 77 million kilowatts, even lower than the peak consumption of 77.27 million kilowatts in 2012, according to the energy ministry. The peak demand is expected to reach 79 million this year.
The government issues a power shortage warning when the country's electricity reserve level dips to below 4 million kilowatts. A complete depletion of power reserves may cause a nationwide blackout, which could take days or even weeks to repair, according to ministry officials.
"Conditions had already been expected to be difficult this summer, and with the shutdown of three reactors, we may expect to face an unprecedented crisis of a power shortage," Han Jin-hyun, the vice minister of trade, industry and energy, told a press briefing.
"Because there is no means to significantly boost our generation capacity in a short period of time, we will have to face the crisis of a possible power shortage by reducing our consumption," he said.
Han said it will take up to four months to replace the substandard control cables in the reactors.
The shutdown of the reactors follows a scandal that erupted late last year, involving more than 13,000 substandard parts supplied under fake quality warranties for over 10 years. The country was forced to shut down two reactors at the Yeonggwang Nuclear Power Plant, located 330 kilometers south of Seoul. The two reactors have since resumed operation after all substandard parts were replaced.
The government said the latest incident was a separate case from that of last year, adding only control cables with fake warranties had been used in the two reactors at the Wolsong Nuclear Power Plant, located some 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, and the two reactors at the Kori Nuclear Power Plant, located about 450 kilometers from the capital and near Busan.
The control cables of poor standards had also been used in two other reactors that are currently under construction at the Kori Nuclear Power Plant, it said.
During a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, President Park Geun-hye expressed concern about the power supply ahead of the summer and ordered the Cabinet to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent accidents at power plants.
"Electricity use is rising sharply as it gets hotter earlier than in previous years. Moreover, concerns about power supply in the summer are rising as reserve levels are not sufficient due to suspension of some power plants," Park said during a Cabinet meeting.
"Even though atomic power plants are an important issue directly linked to the safety of our people, many accidents have occurred so far. We have to do our best to determine what caused the problems and where the responsibilities are while transparently disclosing even small problems in order to prevent such incidents from happening again," she said.
Park also ordered the energy ministry to scrutinize power supply and demand, and keep the public updated on the situation so as to ask for their help in saving energy.