[QODLink]
Asia-Pacific

Cracks found in South Korean nuclear reactor

Reactor shut down after discovery of microscopic cracks, raising fears about power shortages before peak winter season.
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2012 10:46
South Korea generates 30 per cent of its electricity from nuclear plants [Reuters]

South Korean nuclear regulators have found microscopic cracks in tunnels that guide control rods at a nuclear plant under maintenance, government officials said, raising new concerns over the country's nuclear power sector.

The discovery, revealed on Friday, of the cracks at the reactor comes just days after two reactors at the same plant in Yeonggwang county, in the southwest of the country, were shut down to replace parts that had been provided with forged certificates.

South Korea is investigating how thousands of parts for its nuclear reactors were supplied using forged safety documents, with regulators set to inspect all 23 of the country's facilities - a move that could test public support for the industry and threaten billions of dollars worth of exports.

"There are cracks in six tunnels. The reactor has been halted since October 18 for regular maintenance and now the process has been extended by a further 47 days for repair of the cracks," said a spokeswoman for the presidential Korea Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.

She said it was the first time cracks of this type had been found in South Korea's nuclear sector, but added the safety risk was not serious enough to require public disclosure.

Power supplies

The reactor affected by the cracks has a capacity of 1,000 megawatts, and a government official said the extended shutdown could complicate efforts to ensure steady supply of power through the peak winter season after the two other reactors had been stopped until the end of this year.

Asia's fourth-largest economy generates 30 per cent of its electricity from 23 nuclear reactors at state-owned plants, and the government has warned of the potential for unprecedented power shortages due to the shutdowns as demand peaks in winter.

"This could affect power supplies, but we are preparing contingency plans," said a senior economy ministry official, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

South Korea's state-run nuclear power utility said it was investigating the cause of the cracks, but said they had not caused any leaks.

"There are no penetrating cracks or leaks," Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of state utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), said in a statement. It operates all of the country's nuclear power plants.

The country's power utility and nuclear regulators have come under heavy criticism this week after the disclosure that eight firms had used forged safety documents to supply parts to nuclear plants raising concern of broader potential problems in the large and growing nuclear programme.

A task force has been established with government and private sector experts to inspect all reactors to ensure their parts are properly certified. It will also inspect five reactors under construction to see if troubled parts with forged certificates have been provided.

464

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
Country
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Your chance to be an investigative journalist in Al Jazeera’s new interactive game.
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Featured
Private citizens take initiative to help 'irregular' migrants, accusing governments of excessive focus on security.
Indonesia's cassava plantations are being killed by mealybugs, and thousands of wasps have been released to stop them.
Violence in Ain al-Arab has prompted many Kurdish Syrians to flee to Turkey, but others are returning to battle ISIL.
Unelected representatives quietly iron out logistics of massive TPP and TTIP deals among US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.
Led by students concerned for their future with 'nothing to lose', it remains to be seen who will blink first.