Impact assessment for extending use of Kori reactor lacks diligence, say environmental groups

Posted on : 2022-07-19 16:48 KST Modified on : 2022-07-19 16:48 KST
The groups said the assessment failed to include proper measures for dealing with nuclear waste
Reactors No. 1 and No. 2 at the Kori nuclear power plant in Gijang County, Busan, can be seen in this undated photo. (Yonhap News)
Reactors No. 1 and No. 2 at the Kori nuclear power plant in Gijang County, Busan, can be seen in this undated photo. (Yonhap News)

Environmental groups are claiming that the radiological environmental impact assessment prepared by Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) for extending the lifespan of the Kori nuclear reactor No. 2 in Busan was a misleading assessment without proper measures for dealing with nuclear waste that will accompany the continued operation of the reactor.

The Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM) committee against nuclear power and the Busan branch of KFEM held a press conference at the Busan Metropolitan Council building Monday morning, where they demanded that “the pursuit of extending the lifespan of the Kori No. 2 nuclear power reactor, which disregards safety, be stopped immediately.”

The KHNP is in the process of extending the operational life of the Kori No. 2 reactor, which was originally set to be decommissioned in April 2023 after reaching the end of its design life. The move comes as part of the new administration’s policy initiatives of increasing the proportion of nuclear power in the country’s energy mix and making South Korea a key nuclear power player on the international stage.

Accordingly, KHNP submitted a periodic safety evaluation report necessary for the continued operation of the nuclear reactor to the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) in April, and starting July 8, it began to circulate a draft of its radiological environmental impact assessment report for households residing within the emergency planning zone.

The plan is to collect the opinions of 16 local governments in Busan, Ulsan, and South Gyeongsang Province by Sept. 5 for reflection in the NSSC’s review of the proposal to extend the operation of the Kori No. 2 reactor.

Having reviewed the draft, environmental groups at a press conference on Monday said, “If the lifespan of Kori No. 2 is extended, the saturation point of the nuclear reactor’s spent nuclear fuel storage will have to be pulled forward from 2031.”

The groups argued that the KHNP’s proposal to create a dense storage facility that reduces the storage interval of spent nuclear fuel for the No. 2 reactor “cannot be considered a fundamental measure” to prevent unwanted risks.

“The radiological environmental impact assessment, which does not include measures for spent nuclear fuel nor a safety assessment of such measures, amounts to no more than sleight of hand to cover up the existing risks,” the organizations added.

Environmental groups also pointed out the problem that the environmental impact assessment did not present quantitative figures for damage that could arise in the event of a nuclear disaster, including death rates and collective radiation dose.

They argued that “legally, the impact of a serious accident must be assessed, but the fact that [this assessment] was presented only as a pro forma summary and did not include results of comparisons with foreign nuclear reactors shows it was done to conceal the overcrowding of domestic nuclear reactors.”

The groups argue that it is likely that the KHNP did not include such details in its report due to the nature of domestic nuclear power plants, which are located in areas with much higher local population densities than most plants abroad, making them inevitably appear relatively riskier.

At the press conference, Director Han Byeong-seop of the Nuclear Safety Research Institute introduced the results of an emission scenario study in which a major accident at the Kori No. 2 reactor could result in a maximum of 165 deaths within one week, while the average number of deaths from cancer could be anywhere from 8,220 to a maximum of 34,700.

“In the event of a serious accident, caused by terrorism or otherwise, on the scale of Chernobyl at Kori No. 2, up to 633 premature deaths could occur nationwide,” Han warned. “And if a spent fuel tank is destroyed and a fire breaks out, up to 764,000 premature deaths could occur.”

Kim Sung-wook, director of the Geo-Information Research Group, said, "The Gyeongju and Pohang earthquakes started to reveal that the location of nuclear power plants on the eastern coast is not as good as previously thought.” Kim added, “In order to extend the lifespan [of these nuclear reactors], safety standards for earthquake risk and active faults must be properly applied.”

Kim stressed that “The Kori nuclear power plant is located near a densely populated area, and many units are operating in a small area, so the safety assessment should be more conservative than before.”

Environmental groups called for the government and the KHNP to halt the life extension of the Kori No. 2 reactor, saying, “Ignoring safety and risks, extending the life of Kori reactor No. 2 is a policy that puts the citizens of Busan, Ulsan and [the entire] South Gyeongsang Province, where 8 million people live, at risk.”

By Kim Jeong-su, senior staff writer

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