A reckless process
The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) kicks off deliberations on the proposed permanent suspension of the Wolseong-1 Reactor today. The review comes 16 months after Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) hurriedly decided to shut down the aged nuclear reactor. If the proposal passes the NSSC, the reactor will stop running forever after a whopping 700 billion won (US$585.4 million) was spent to extend its operation.
The lead up to the suspension of the reactor was not normal. The reactor, which opened in 1983, had to stop due to the expiration of the permit for its operation in 2012. After spending 700 billion won augmenting the safety of the reactor, the KHNP received permission to operate it until 2022. But after the launch of the liberal Moon Jae-in administration in May 2017, the policy direction changed. In a ceremony one month later, Moon announced that his government would close it down as soon as possible. In a board meeting, the KHNP hastily decided to shut the reactor down earlier than 2022.
The operator cited economic reasons to back up its decision. But that did not make sense. The KHNP made the decision after lowering its operation rate to about 50 percent. The KHNP did not even show details on economic feasibility to its board members.
Nonetheless, the reactor operator pressed ahead with a shutdown. It even removed fuel from the Wolseong-1 Reactor followed by a request for permanent suspension of the reactor to the NSSC in February. At this pace, an early shutdown of the reactor is almost certain because the commission will only review if the nuclear operator has drawn up plans to prepare for a post-operation reactor. Then the operator will have crossed a point of no return.
Such a hasty decision helps no one. From the start, the government's plan to phase out nuclear power lacked rationality. In protest, the National Assembly decided to demand the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) look into the operator's suspicious rush to shut down the reactor. The operator's push to close the reactor constitutes disrespect for the legislature.
The NSSC must put its permission on hold until the BAI comes up with its findings. The reactor operator is being criticized for incurring massive deficits for the Korea Electric Power Corporation and for more greenhouse gas emissions as a result of its shutdown decision on the Wolseong-1 reactor. The commission must not follow in the footsteps of the operator.
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