Korea Rises to
Once a barren ground, Korea becomes a nuclear powerhouse
The following are excerpts of an interview with Song Myung-jae, senior vice president of the Power Generation Division of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the domestic nuclear power generation ¡ª Ed.
Question: Will you sum up the 30 year-chronology of the Korean nuclear power industry?
Answer: Thirty years have passed since the Kori Nuclear Power Unit One went into commercial service on April 29, 1978.
Initially, the domestic nuclear power industry was barren ground, as it had no available technology for design, construction and other fields, so it had to resort to a turn-key formula. However, even if it held the key to a nuclear power unit, we had no capability to operate it since it is composed of millions of parts, more than 10 times as many as those of an aircraft.
At that time, Korea was running 100,000 kW-class thermal power plants. The state-run power company, now KEPCO, established a task force designed to brace for the operation of a projected 600,000 kW-class nuclear power unit. About 170 staff members from the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute were sent to the United States to undergo several months of training on the operation of a nuclear power unit in Illinois, similar to the Kori Nuclear Power Unit, Korea's first nuclear power facility in operation.
Our manpower stayed involved in the continuous construction of nuclear power units and start-up operations before doing such things on our own with the assistance of consulting services by Westinghouse staff members before finally generating and transmitting power.
I recalled that we had a hard time in an initial start-up operation as our staff had to undergo stoppages 17 times during the period between April 29, 1978 and Dec. 30, 1979. Our company has grown up to become an experienced and capable nuclear power company that produces power without any interruption for the past two years.
Q: When did you enter KHNP and get involved in nuclear power generation?
A: I was one of the last trainees for the operation of Kori Nuclear Power Unit One and served as the manager in charge of radwaste management.
The United States halted the construction of nuclear power units in 1979 due to the Three Mile Island accident that same year.
In accordance with our resolution to construct nuclear power units with our own hands, we began to take the initiative in the construction of Kori Nuclear Power Units 3 and 4 in 1985. In an effort to localize nuclear power technologies, our company began to build the Yonggwang Nuclear Power Units 3 and 4 by adopting the Korean Standard Nuclear Power, a reactor developed using our own technology.
In 1986, the Soviet Union suspended the construction of nuclear units due to the Chernobyl nuclear accident, whereas France began to standardize the construction of nuclear power units in the beginning of that year.
Our company stepped up its efforts to raise the localization ratio and improve operational prowess. We saw our annual maximum capacity factor, the ratio of the net electricity generation for the time considered to the energy that could have been generated at continuous full-power operation during the same period, surging to a range of 80 percent in 1988, higher than a world average of 70 percent.
Q: Do our nation's nuclear power units see capacity factors and efficiency ratios comparable to those of other nations?
A: Our technological levels became mature during the 1990s, after the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games. Under a plan to develop its own next-generation nuclear power generation systems, Korea succeeded in the development of the APR-1400, an upgraded Korean-type reactor in the early 2000s.
With the design and construction of nuclear power being upgraded, Korea saw its capacity factor rate surging to a range of 90 percent to set a world record. We are now operating nuclear units for 30 years without causing any major nuclear accident, but with only one stoppage in two years -- keeping the zero, first and second stage out of a seven-stage classification by the IAEA.
KHNP has set a precedent of rising from nothing to a world-class powerhouse with its excellent operations and export records. nw
Song Myung-jae, senior vice president of the Power Generation Division of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co.