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Korea to replace old reactor equipment


Korea will replace potentially faulty equipment at its older nuclear power plants and overhaul its safety guidelines in an effort to prevent accidents that could lead to serious fallouts, the government said Friday, according to The Korea Times.

The plan by the Ministry of Knowledge Economy calls for checking operating systems of all reactors that have been in operation for more than 20 years in the coming months.

Of the 21 operational commercial reactors in the country, nine have been running for more than two decades, requiring them to be checked.

"All equipment and systems that could pose problems will be checked with a detailed plan for their replacement to be established in June," the ministry said. It added that, besides equipment directly related to the running of the reactors, inspectors will look at emergency power generators at the country's four nuclear power plants by July. The generators are needed to cool reactors in case there is a problem with the regular electricity supply. Failure to cool reactors can cause the kind of catastrophe that destroyed Japan's Fukushima nuclear power station in March 2011.

The measures come after Seoul was forced to halt its Gori-1 reactor operations last month when outside electricity needed to keep the reactors cool was cut off by mistake during a routine safety check. The incident posed no threat to South Korea's oldest reactor located in northern Busan, about 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, but it caused an uproar when workers and plant managers tried to cover up the mishap.

In addition, all emergency diesel power generators failed to come on-line because they were not properly maintained.

The ministry in charge of the country's energy policies, said besides replacing equipment that could fail down the road, inspectors will greatly increase the type of parts and installations that will be examined. More time will also be allocated so each reactor can be properly examined.

It said that all parts that are to be replaced will be purchased based on quality instead of the lowest price. Suppliers will be encouraged to build up necessary knowhow and competitiveness while failure to meet rigorous requirements could cause them to be excluded from future contracts.

Of the country's reactors, Gori-1 and the four Wolsong Canada Deuterium Uranium power units have a life cycle of 30 years, while a later pressurized water reactor can be in operation for 40 years.

The ministry said to deal with the "secretive" work culture at nuclear power plants comprehensive efforts will be made to enhance transparency, and to set up independent monitoring regimes involving civic groups and civilian experts.

"Enhancing transparency is vital for safe operations with related information to be shared with the general public," it said. 
A 24-hour, real-time monitoring system will be set up connecting state-run Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) and the atomic power plants it controls. 

"The changes aim to enhance safety of nuclear equipment and strengthen transparency, revamping the corporate culture inside KHNP and cooperative tie-ups with parts suppliers and other related companies," the ministry said. (Yonhap)

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