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Older reactors are more dangerous

Cover-ups and lack of reporting contribute to distrust of nuclear safety assurances

  • Kim Ik-jung, Seoul
  • Korea
  • March 21, 2012
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(The No. 1 reactor of the Kori nuclear power plant in Busan had a power cut for 12 minutes on February 9, followed by the failure of its backup generator. But the incident was not disclosed until a month later)

The reactor has been creating a stir. Its power supply which is essential to circulate water cooling fuel rods was shut off for 12 minutes and its emergency diesel generator failed to work.

The workers had to manually supply power by pulling wire from the outside. The 12-minute blackout sinterrupted circulation of cooling water and increased the temperature inside the reactor. It was potentially an awful moment as nuclear reaction can diffuse rapidly just in a few seconds.

This accident has two main problems.

The first is an old reactor, which, I think, is the main reason that the power supply was cut off and the backup generator did not operate.

The 33-year-old backup generator was installed when the oldest reactor in the country started operation in 1978. It would be rather strange if such an old generator worked well.

The power cut has to do with the fact that the reactor itself and its components are 33 years old. I believe that means we cannot expect the reactor operates right.

I believe the older a reactor is the more dangerous it is. From the Fukushima case, we have learned enough how risky the country’s oldest one, the Kori No. 1 reactor, is.

Ignoring it, however, South Korean government is planning to extend life of most reactors including the Wolsong No. 1 reactor whose life of 30 years will have ended this year. Our government has learned nothing from the Fukushima disaster.

The second problem is that the Kori reactor’s accident was covered up. The power cut was not recorded or reported. The plant authorities did not comply with rules that they should report any problem within 24 hours. The president of the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power who learned about the accident only a few days later did not report it to the government and the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission for a month. This suggests they may have tried to cover up the accident.

So far, South Korea has recorded 654 nuclear plant accidents. But a dozen of them have been concealed and only disclosed later. The leakage of cooling water at the Wolsong No. 1 reactor in 1984 had been covered up but came to light in 1988. I believe other nuclear plants also have covered up accidents. There may be many nuclear accidents that have been successfully concealed.

Meanwhile, a Nuclear Security Summit will be held in Seoul on March 26-27, in which some 50 heads of state will participate. Their apparent aim is to prevent nuclear terrorism.

To prevent nuclear terrorism we must decommission nuclear plants and bombs in the world. Presumably, however, they would not discuss that essentials.

Rather, the US might use the summit for protecting its nuclear weapons and facilities in the name of “nuclear security,” or justifying its attack on “its enemies” like Iran and North Korea. And South Korea will use it for exporting more nuclear power plants to other countries.

Likewise, it seems that the participants’s purpose would not be for “nuclear security.”

In fact, the word, “nuclear security,” is contradictory in itself. The nuclear powers always justify their possession of nuclear weapons but label other countries who try to possess nuclear bombs as “terrorists.” Also, they try to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons but spread nuclear power plants producing materials of nuclear bombs.

How can we understand the absurd contradiction?

The Kori accident and the summit are closely related with nuclear materials like uranium. I think the very nuclear materials themselves are terrorism threatening the security of human beings.

Kim Ik-jung is professor of medicine at Dongguk University and head of the executive committee of the Korean Professors’ Organization for a Post-Nuclear Energy Society
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