Gov't Considers Operation of Nuclear
Units beyond Design Life Span
Placing safety as the priority during the discussions
The government plans to decide whether nuclear units in the 70s and 80s are allowed to become operational after their design life span, depending on meeting more stringent safety requirements.
"The closure of nuclear units, citing only the expiration of design life span, could cause a great loss in consideration of economic aspects, and advanced countries like the United States and Japan have allowed old nuclear power plants to continue operation even after design life spans in the event that a detailed review of their safety proves to be safe,"Vice Minister of Science and Technology Choi Seok-sik said.
The continued operation of old nuclear units beyond the design life span may be considered under the national perspective of making the most use of useful resources. However, recognizing that nuclear facilities safety take precedence over economic aspects, the government is seeking an amendment to the relevant laws, calling for tougher standards on the safety evaluation of nuclear units whose life span expires than other units, Choi said in an interview with NewsWorld.
Countries across the world have begun to show a growing concern over the construction of nuclear power units in the wake of crude oil hikes and the entry of force of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Recognizing the significance of nuclear power for a nation lacking natural resources, he said, Korea has built 20 nuclear units to rank as sixth largest nuclear power house in the world. Capitalizing on experiences and technical prowess acquired during its 27-year history of nuclear power construction, Korea is now turning to exploring foreign nuclear power construction markets, the MOST vice minister said. The following are the excerpts of the interview.
Question: Would you introduce our readers to the events celebrating the 11th anniversary of Nuclear Safety Day?
Answer: The events marking the 11th anniversary of Nuclear Safety Day were held to raise a sense of awareness about nuclear safety among those with the nuclear power industry and provide moral support to them.
About 500 people, including Deputy Prime Minister-Minister of Science and Technology Oh Myung and representatives of the industry, neighborhoods and civic organizations got together during an anniversary ceremony held at the 63-story KLI building in Yeouido, Seoul Sept. 5. Forty-four people, including Hong Jang-hee, chief of the power generation division at Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP), were honored with awards in recognition of their contributions to the development of the local nuclear power industry.
Women Interested in Nuclear staged street campaigns to ensure nuclear safety in 17 cities across the nation during the period between Sept. 1 and Sept. 6. About 200 people from business, research institute and campus circles participated in a forum on nuclear safety, organized by Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety in Daejeon Sept. 6.
Besides, nuclear facilities were opened to the general public, and such side events as posters and slogan entry contests were held. Nuclear power-related institutions celebrated the anniversary with their own ceremonies and events designed to ensure nuclear safety.
Q: Nuclear power has been recognized for reducing greenhouse gasses emissions in the wake of the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Could you tell our readers more about the domestic industry of nuclear power, emerging as a more reliable energy source?
A: For a nation which imports 97 percent of domestic energy needs, the energy question has emerged as a pressing task to be tackled urgently due to a hike of crude oil prices, surpassing $60 per barrel and the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change last February. Figures released by international energy organizations in 2002 showed that Korea discharged 434 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 1.8 percent of aggregate global greenhouse gasses emissions, ranking ninth in the world.
Nuclear power will be considered as a more essential factor than ever to help Korea maintain a sustainable high growth unless new energy sources alternative to fossil fuels are developed. Korea has built and operated 20 nuclear power units since 1977 when Kori Unit 1, Korea's first nuclear facility, was put into operation. Nuclear power accounts for 40 percent of aggregate domestic power generation, playing an essential role in the national economy.
As part of its efforts to aggressively cope with expected crude oil price hikes and environmental issues related to climate change, the Korean government, in cooperation with the United States and other advanced countries, has been working on a joint bid to develop Generation IV Nuclear Energy System (GIV) while accelerating its research on nuclear fusion.
Q: Would you elaborate on the nuclear units built in the 70s and the possibility of prolong their life span?
A: The design life span is referring to the target period set at the time of design in consideration of economical aspects, efficiency and safety rate. In case of Korea, the life span of Kori Unit 1 and Wolsung Units 1 through 4 is set at 30 years and that of other units is 40 years. However, by advanced science measures, examinations on the life time of nuclear facilities indicated that the units tended to be somewhat stringent, and the development of maintenance technologies have enabled them to become operational in safety after the design life span. Accordingly, the closure of nuclear units, citing only the expiration of design life span, could cause a great loss in consideration of economic aspects. Advanced countries like the United States and Japan have allowed old nuclear power plants to continue operation even after design life spans in the event that a scrutiny into their safety proves to be safe.
Continued operation of old nuclear units may be considered under the national perspective of making the most use of useful resources. Recognizing that nuclear facilities' safety take precedence over economic aspects, the government is seeking an amendment to relevant laws, calling for tougher standards on the safety evaluation of nuclear units whose life span expires than other units.
Q: What regulatory safety reviews and inspections are in place to ensure safety?
A: Nuclear power plants are designed to have multiple safeguard systems so as to secure enough room for ensuring safety by employing a multi-prolonged, intensive safeguard conception. The nuclear power plant company takes it own safety steps, while regulatory authorities conduct stringent safety activities.
Nuclear unit operators are required to conduct periodical safety reviews every 10 year, and regulatory authorities recommend such the improvement of safety based on regulatory agencies' request categories for betterment, latest technological standards and experiences on safety regulations. A safety appraisal on the provability of accidents is conducted on all nuclear units in accordance with implementation plans in the event of accidents in operation so as to find weak points of units and make available the findings for the operation of maintenance of nuclear power plants. Authorities spare no efforts to prevent the repetition of similar accidents by making an in-depth analysis into domestic and foreign operation experiences and accidents.
Korea actively promotes cooperation with international organizations, including International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) to exchange latest technologies and operational experiences. Korean units undergo inspections by IAEA's Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) to ensure their safety.
Q: What steps does the ministry take to ensure the security of nuclear power facilities?
A: Nuclear power plants, put on a list of national security surveillance facilities, are equipped with scientific security systems to prevent outside intruders and detect them. Security guards are posted around the clock to protect nuclear facilities, and in case of emergencies, they can be supported by neighborhood police and other related organizations. The sky over the units is designated as a no-flying zone. Visitors to nuclear power plants are issued entry cards only when their identity is confirmed. Entry is restricted, depending on the degree of importance. Persons except certified staff are prohibited from entering a zone directly related to the safety of nuclear facilities.
A working manual on taking countermeasures against possible terrorist attacks is in place in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, and education of relevant staff members about antiterrorist activities is reinforced. The government has worked out emergency plans against the possible outside leakage of radioactive materials, caused by malfunction and destruction of nuclear power plants.
Q: What about the safe utilization of radioisotopes?
A: Radiation and radioisotope are widely used in such arenas as agriculture, industry, manufacturing, environment, medical and high-tech research sectors. The number of institutions with radioisotope permissions surged from two in 1963 to 2,569 as the end of July 2005. A plan on the promotion of radiation and radioisotope uses, established in 1997, calls for raising the portion of the sectors from current 10 percent to 30 percent by 2010. The government is developing an advanced IT infrastructure system to search and keep a close lookout against theft and disappearance of radioisotope carriers like the GPS-based position detection system.
It is working out emergency plans designed to take precautious measures against radioactive terrorist attacks as a specter of terrorist threats is mounting against the nations of dispatching troops to Iraq as shown by a series of terrorist attacks, including the July 7, 2005 terrorist explosions in London.
Q: Would you tell our readers about Korea's plans to make a foray into the foreign nuclear power market?
A: Countries across the globe have begun to reconfirm the significance of nuclear power to cope with such issues as continuous crude oil price hikes and mandatory implementation of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecast that nuclear power generation would surge 2.5 times by 2030 to account for 27 percent of global aggregate power generation. Even the United States, which has not built a single nuclear unit for three decades, is now changing its mind, and European countries are withdrawing decisions on not building nuclear units. In particular, China plans to build 20 to 30 nuclear power plants by the 2020 to meet surging power demands. Developing countries, including Indonesia, are showing a keen interest in the construction of nuclear power facilities. As a result, chances are high that Korea may be given more opportunities to explore foreign markets.
Thanks to its strenuous 27-year efforts, Korea has grown into a global nuclear powerhouse, ranking sixth in the world. The nation has already been recognized for its experiences and technological prowess. As part of its efforts to explore the foreign markets, Korea has dispatched joint delegations comprising of government and civilian representatives to prospective exporting countries, organized exploratory sessions on Korea? nuclear power technologies and conducted diverse activities for supporting the private sector, including a feasibility study on the construction of nuclear units. Such government efforts and collaboration among Korean private organizations will likely help establish a solid foundation to set the stage for Korea? entry into foreign markets. nw
Vice Minister of Science and Technology Choi Seok-sik