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(2nd LD) Gov't finds 'unqualified' parts in nuclear reactors

All Headlines 11:33 November 05, 2012

(ATTN: UPDATES with additional information in paras 11-13)

SEOUL, Nov. 5 (Yonhap) -- The government said Monday that it has discovered a number of suppliers have been funneling what it called "unproven" parts into the country's nuclear reactors by fabricating quality warranties.

Despite a wide use of such parts in at least two nuclear reactors, there is no threat of a radiation leak as the unproven parts are what Minister of Knowledge Economy Hong Suk-woo called "ordinary" parts, such as fuses and power switches, which are unrelated to the reactor itself.

"We deeply regret the fact that such an incident took place, but again I point out the fact that this has no direct link to the safety of nuclear reactors," the minister told a press conference.

"Also, the government will do its utmost to correct the problem at the earliest date possible," he added.

The minister said the parts are mostly legitimate products that have no problem to be used in other industrial sectors. However, the parts need to be proven to be safe for use in nuclear power plants and thus require quality and safety warranties from one of 12 international organizations that have been designated by Seoul.

The eight suppliers faked 60 warranties for 234 parts since 2003, supplying 7,682 items worth 820 million won (US$750,000) in total, according to Hong.

Of the total, 5,233 parts have actually been used in five of the country's 23 nuclear reactors while nearly 99 percent of them were used in two reactors at the Yeonggwang Nuclear Power Plant, located some 330 kilometers southwest of Seoul.

Following the discovery, two nuclear reactors at the Yeonggwang plant on the southwest coast will be immediately shut down to have their parts replaced, which could cause an enormous problem for the country's electricity supply.

The incident is also expected to seriously undermine confidence over the safety of South Korean reactors, also denting the country's efforts to export nuclear power plants.

"The government plans to further increase its efforts to export nuclear reactors. In this regard, the government will quickly provide all necessary and accurate facts to prospective foreign buyers to make sure there is not a single shred of doubt left over the safety of the country's nuclear reactors," Minister Hong said.

Though the government said the unproven parts have no direct links to a possible radiation leak, the incident will likely lead to additional concerns over the safety of nuclear reactors, which have been rising since Japan's worst nuclear radiation leak following the earthquake in March 2011.

South Korea currently operates 23 nuclear reactors. Since the beginning of the year, nine malfunctions have been reported, according to the state-run operator of nuclear power plants, the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said it was not immediately clear whether any of the unproven parts had caused the malfunctions, but that even if they had, there would have been no threat of a radiation leak.


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