[Editorial] Untrustworthy safety tests at aging nuclear plants

Posted on : 2011-05-07 15:34 KST Modified on : 2011-05-07 15:34 KST

The government has approved the renewed operation of the Gori Nuclear Power Plant No. 1 reaction, which has encountered frequent accidents due to the prolonging of its lifespan. It produced examination findings stating that the 21 nuclear power plants currently in operation are designed and operated to be safe even in a worst-case natural disaster scenario.
Anxieties about nuclear power have been running high since the accident that struck Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. In particular, the Gori No. 1 reactor was the subject of an injunction request by the Busan Bar Association to end its operation, and it has provoked many concerns from residents of the region. It is apparent that they will experience more worries, and issue more objections, thanks the government's slipshod safety checkup and hasty conclusion.
The government has stated that there will be no problem with the Gori No. 1 reactor if the coastal barrier is raised and yearly differentiated safety checkups are performed. It stated that a total of 56 specialists, including outside experts and Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety inspectors, conducted a focused examination between April 22 and May 3. In addition to lacking objectivity, however, the government's study failed to resolve the questions that have been raised.
It is difficult to comprehend how the government could announce that it would conduct a thorough examination of the reactor, no matter how long it took, and then produce a conclusion in just over ten days. Given that the Gori No. 1 reactor exhausted its thirty-year design lifespan in 2008, extension of it is uncharted territory. The failure to properly disclose the safety assessment report used as a basis for the decision to extend it has further bred apprehensions. For something like the Gori No. 1 reaction, a thorough and differentiated safety inspection should have been performed following the sufficient airing of resident opinions, and it is problematic that this did not occur.
The government is saying that the results of studies presuming a worst-case accident scenario from a natural disaster have shown all of South Korea’s nuclear power plants to be safe. It is staggering that such a pronouncement can be made even after seeing the Fukushima disaster, with things like emergency generators presented as “supplementary measures.”
Germany made the decision to immediately end operation on the seven of its seventeen power plants that have been in service for over 30 years, and to conduct careful inspections of the remainder. The European Union is conducting clear and rigorous nuclear power stress tests between June and December. The only conclusion one can draw is that the South Korean government, which should be conducting inspections from square one after hearing a variety of opinions, has instead embarked upon an effort of tailor-made safety PR presuming a continuation of its current nuclear power policy. This is why it is impossible for a South Korean population that has changed since Fukushima to trust a government that remains stuck in the pre-Fukushima era.
Residents of the area around the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant are currently enduring great suffering, with radioactive material detected at 100 thousand times typical levels and their milk, vegetables, and even underground water contaminated with radioactivity. If we are to take any lesson from this catastrophe, we must conduct new safety examinations with greater objectivity and transparency.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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