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Court ruling casts questions on South Korea's other aged nuclear reactors

All News 15:51 February 08, 2017

SEOUL, Feb. 8 (Yonhap) -- A court ruling overturning a government decision to extend operation of a nuclear reactor has brought the country's other aged reactors back into the spotlight, about a third of them due to expire in lifespan within 10 years.

South Korea has 25 reactors currently running as of Wednesday. According to the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC), eight of them have expiry dates in the years between 2023 and 2027. While most of the reactors were initially given 40 years of operational license, two were given 30 years.

The general assumption is that among these eight, some may be stretched in lifespan, depending on how the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., the operator of the reactors, assesses their safety, environmental evaluation of their radiation and the state of key components. The NSSC makes the final decision based on such assessments plus inspection results from the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS).

The Seoul Administration Court on Tuesday ordered the government to repeal its decision to operate Wolseong-1 for 10 more years, citing major faults in the process leading up to the decision, including lack of full and required inspections. The facility, located in the southeastern city of Gyeongju some 400 kilometers from Seoul, had been shut down in 2012 after ending its 30-year operation but was switched back on in 2015 in a highly controversial decision by the NSSC to prolong operation by another decade.

Nuclear reactors Wolseong-1 to 4 (Yonhap file photo)

Nuclear reactors Wolseong-1 to 4 (Yonhap file photo)

Kori-1, the country's first commercial reactor, is the only other reactor whose lifespan was extended, also for 10 years. It will be dismantled after the extension period ends in June this year.

Both Wolseong-1 and Kori-1 were fiercely opposed for operational extension by local residents and environmental activists who argued they were no longer safe. In case of the former, some members of the commission walked out to protest the push for the extension. It remains online despite the court ruling, with the NSSC still silent about whether it will appeal.

Kori-1 was temporarily shut down in April 2011, which an investigation revealed was caused by sub-quality components. Their functional test results were fabricated with bribes, the investigation showed.

Civic groups are questioning stress test results on Wolseong-1 put out by KINS as well.

The commission maintains that its decision on Wolseong-1 is valid, having been made with effective safety inspections. It cites examples in other countries where reactors run for longer than 40 years.

Some insiders say government policy on reactor lifespan extensions may change overall under the next administration.

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