MOST Focuses on Ensuring
Safety of Nuclear Power

Strives to develop Korea as a global powerhouse in nuclear power and non-power sectors

Kim Young-shik, director general of the Atomic Energy Bureau at the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), stresses the government's commitment to step up safety of nuclear power in celebration of the 13th anniversary of Nuclear Safety Day during his recent interview with NewsWorld. He also touched on the long-term development strategies of the domestic nuclear power and non-power fields- ED.
Question: Will you tell our readers about whether the Kori Unit 1 should be shut down or remain operational after its design life and global trends of similar cases?
Answer: The MOST, a governmental regulatory body designed to ensure and examine the safety of nuclear facilities, has been doing its utmost in protecting public safety and the environment. The Kori Unit 1 is subject to a review of its continued operation after the design life if it meets the requirements for the continued operation. A review of the safety of Kori Unit 1 is under way to determine whether it will be allowed to remain operational after its design life that expired in June 2007.
Currently, 100 specialists are at work to look into 112 safety standards in 16 areas in accordance with the standards recommended by IAEA plus regulations on the renewal of operational licenses in the United States to examine the integrity and aging management program of structures, systems and components important to safety. They are exchanging the experiences and technology on the reviews of safe long-term operations with the U.S. and Japanese regulatory authorities. In this past July, the Kori Unit 1 underwent the IAEA Peer Review for a third-party independent review. Information on safety reviews is made public via a separate homepage (
In foreign countries, continued operation of nuclear units is approved unless their safety goes wrong. Currently, Out of the existing 435 nuclear power units, 109 units or about 25 percent have been operating for more than 30 years.In the United States, 48 nuclear units have been already permitted to remain operation for another 20 years before the expiration of their design life of 40 years, while in Japan, 13 units keep operating for 10 years after their design life of 30 years.
In particular, six nuclear units in operation in the United States and three in Japan are similar to the Kori Unit 1: three of the U.S. units were already approved for a 60-year safe long term operation, while three others are applying for license renewal for their operational continuation. All of the Japanese three units keep operating after their design life of 30 years.
The MOST will make a final decision on whether to allow the continued operation of the Kori Unit 1 or shut it down around the end of this year based on the results of the review which is now under way in an objective and transparent manner.
Q: Will you elaborate on the circumstances of the loss of uranium by Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) and what steps are in place to prevent a repetition of the similar accidents?
A: Regarding the loss of uranium, the MOST found that the missing materials with almost no radioactivity do not only have no impact on human beings and environment, but they are also too little amounts to be diverted for other purposes. We strive to make the occasion as an opportunity to focus on preventing the repetition of similar accidents by securing even a small amount of uranium.
Recognizing the loss of three types of uranium, the MOST formed a joint investigation team of experts from Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control (KINAC) and Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS) and a comprehensive uranium management team to probe into the loss of the uranium and search it.
The missing materials in question are 0.2 grams of 10 percent enriched uranium, 0.8 kilograms of depleted uranium and 1.9 kilograms of natural uranium that had been kept at the KAERI. Radioactive measurements of in a car depot of a carrier and an incinerator have been so far undertaken and 100 leachate samples have been drilled from a garbage dump site and analyzed to retrieve the missing materials. But nothing unusual has been found since they should be transformed into minute powder in the process of incineration and thrown away into a garbage dump site where the ashes were diffused due to downpours.
The results of a survey of tracing the transportation of the uranium confirmed the uranium's entry and exit date of the incinerator as well as its entry date and burial date of the garbage dump site and concluded that the materials in question were incinerated before their burial at the garbage dump site.
The missing uranium materials were almost not radioactive and in small amounts - an aggregate of 2.7 kg - that had no impact to human beings and environment.
An analysis of a radioactivity using an atmospheric spread model showed that the impact on human bodies was measured at 5.0x10-4mSv, one-two thousandth of the dose limit (1mSv) for the public. and the radioactive impact of the incinerated materials buried at a garbage dump site on the environment stood at 2.5x10-5mSv, one-40,000th. The IAEA regards the events as an accidental one happened from a simple mistake based on the cited reasons.
The MOST is implementing five measures designed to manage all stages of nuclear materials ranging from their entry to storage and management to prevent the repetition of similar accidents.
They include an automatic management system by attaching a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag on all nuclear materials, a cross-check into the departure of nuclear materials through multi-channel surveillance systems and a real-name management system through a chart of nuclear material users.
Besides, it will cut down on inspection period and take comprehensive management steps, including the construction of a uranium residual storage facility to stockpile nuclear materials that were used up for R&D and cross check into their management by the KINAC and KINS.
Q: Of late, concerns have mounted over the safety of a nuclear power plant in Japan, which was affected by an earthquake. What steps are in place to prevent similar accidents in Korea?
A: A 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck an off-shore area in Niigata Prefecture, Japan, leaving 11 people dead and about 1,900 residents injured and caused property damages estimated at some 1.5 trillion yen (about 11.25 trillion won). The earthquake also damaged a town in Kashiwajaki, Kariwa, and a nuclear power plant, located near the epicenter. Water coolants used to cool spent fuel rods at all units (Unit 1 through Unit 7) of the plant overflowed, radioactive material released into the atmosphere, the lid got open off the storage of solid waste materials and a fire broke out of Unit 3 in the wake of the strong earthquake.
This earthquake in Japan did not have any impact on Korean nuclear plants. The epicenter of the earthquake was not only far away for ours. Also, it should be noted that type of reactors in a Japan nuclear power plant is Boiling Water Reactor (BWR), which is very different from Korean nuclear power plants; Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) and Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR). PWR and PHWR are designed with less possibility of coolant release and no chance of releasing radioactive gas, caused by damages since they not have such exhaust pipes of ventilation equipment.
Furthermore, Korea gives a construction permit after a comprehensive investigation into a geological survey into a wider area of a radius of 320 km and the existence of capable fault in an area with a radius of 8 km from the planned nuclear power plant site, so that nuclear plants be built on a hard rock in order to ensure seismic safety.
A seismic countermeasure research team is operated to identify practical improvement to reduce possible damages that could be caused by earthquakes beyond the design basis. The research team collects and reviews information on the overall state of damages of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant and lessons learned from this event. The government is striving to build up a sound awareness toward safety by enhancing public confidence over nuclear power plants and attaching top priority on safety.
Q: Will you elaborate on the current process and future plan of a project to build low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste disposal facility?
A: The most important aspect of the construction and operation of radioactive waste disposal facility is to ensure safety. The MOST, responsible for conducting safety checks from the stage of the construction of such a facility, is doing its utmost in ensuring safety to make the public easy.
The MOST is reviewing the radioactive waste disposal facility to determine its radioactive impact into the environment and safety of the proposed facility site in response to the Jan. 15, 2007 application by Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. on the construction and operation of the low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste disposal facility according to the Atomic Energy Act.
The first phase of the project calls for the completion of an underground-type low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste disposal facility capable of accommodating 100,000 drums on an initial stage on a lot of about 2 million sq. meters in Gyeongju City by December 2009.
Q: Will you say about the current status on the development of the domestic nuclear power industry and policies designed to invigorate the industry in connection with international pacts on greenhouse emission reductions?
A: Overuse of fossil fuels corresponding to the development of human beings is blamed for global warming, which has already become one of global major issues of the current times to be tackled with. Countries are struggling to curb carbon dioxide emissions and develop new and renewable energy sources, but they are apparently destined to be stuck in a shackle of the so-called Trilemma, a choice among the environment, economic development and energy use, each of which can be unacceptable and undesirable. Advanced countries are turning to nuclear power as one of alternative solutions as a consensus is building up over nuclear power that offers a stable supply of large amounts of energy while preserving the environment.
An analysis by OECD/IEA forecasts that energy demand will surge 1.5 times as much as now and nuclear power generation will register a 1.4-fold climb to play a major role in future energy supply.
Korea depends on imports for 97 percent of its energy demand. The nation spends one-fourth of all revenues for energy imports, so its dependence on technology-intensive nuclear energy would contribute to stabilizing energy supplies. Korea's uranium imports, valued at 0.4 percent of the expenditures for energy imports, plays a leading role to account for 16 percent of primary energy supplies.
For the pat two decades, Korea's general prices have shot up 140 percent, while electricity charges have risen a paltry 26 percent thanks to wider nuclear energy utilization.
Currently, 19 nuclear power units are in operation except the Kori Unit 1 across the nation to take up a 40 percent portion in domestic energy supply. Four units now under construction and four other on the drawing board would bring to 28 the number of nuclear units in operation in the late 2010s.
The MOST is striving to raise the safety of nuclear units in operation to global top levels to secure public reliability while simultaneously adopt technology development strategies. The government is undertaking such projects to overhaul nuclear energy as futuristic nuclear energy, prolongation of design life and output augmentation. Korea is actively participating in the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) to lay the foundation for the fourth generation nuclear reactor .
In the future, nuclear power is expected not only to serves as an energy resources to stabilize energy supplies and effective means of coping with climate changes, but also to emerge as a new exporting industry with a competitive edge, a value-added industry and a new driving force that will drive the nation's growth. To this end, it endeavors to focus on utilization of nuclear power in a safer, more transparent and more democratic manner.
Q: What steps does your ministry take to lure investments into non-nuclear power sector and boos the industry?
A: Utilizations of the non-nuclear power sector vary. Uses of radiation, a technology designed to improve the quality of public life, are expanded into medical, agricultural, environmental and biological industries.
In Japan, the economic size of the non-nuclear power sector is bigger than that of the power generation field, and the Unites Sates is the same with the non-power sector taking a 80 percent share. As the global non-power market is projected to surge from approximately $500 billion in 2005 to about $2 trillion, the United States, Japan and other advanced countries do not hesitate to make investments into developing radiation and isotope utilization technologies.
Korea set aside 20.5 billion won during this year for investments into the development of radiation utilization technology and invigorating the industry. As a result, this led to an expansion of isotope utilization as the nation's isotope supply rate shot up from 0.05 percent in 2004 to 33.4 percent in 2004, Besides, the isotope utilization field posted $46 million worth of exports during the three-year period between 2004 and 2006. Currently, the sector accounts for 15 percent of the value of exports in the power generation sector, but the isotope exporting industry is expected to climb up dramatically.
As shown by the third comprehensive nuclear energy promotion plan, the government makes strenuous efforts to invigorate the radiation utilization industry with the goal of improving public health and quality of public life through expanded uses of radiation. The government plans to implement diverse policies in a bid to realize a goal of raising the global standing of the domestic radiation industry, which now ranks 30th in the world, to a global top five nation. nw


Kim Young-shik, director general of the Atomic Energy Bureau at the Minister of Science and Technology

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