BUSAN, South Korea — On Tuesday, three engineers performing maintenance on Gori-3 at the four-reactor Gori Nuclear facility in northeastern Busan, tripped an electrical wire which caused the Gori-1 reactor to automatically shutdown after a spark and subsequent fire destroyed one of the reactor’s 27 circuit breakers.
According to the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety, which is investigating the accident, the electrical glitch was due to an aging spring coil inside a circuit breaker, which helps controls the system used to pump containment cooling water. The Gori-1 reactor, which was built by Westinghouse in 1978, is the oldest nuclear reactor in the country.
The facility planned on resuming operation of the Gori-1 reactor last Friday but decided to hold off due to mounting public worry and opposition from lawmakers and environmentalists.
In an effort to ease public concern officials issued a statement saying that the electrical malfunction last week was a minor glitch that was acceptable at a reactor every five years on average. They added that there was no possibility of a radiation leak, while noting that reactor safety had been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
According to Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) the temporary shutdown will have no affect on Korea’s power supply and urged the public not to be concerned over safety. Officials see this more as a problem of perception due to continuing worries with safety at the Fukshima nuclear power facilities in Japan, which the IAEA rates as still remaining “very serious.”
In the face of public worry, Korean officials are stepping up inspections as well as reexamining existing safety regulations.
“We will undergo a safety examination of the Gori-1 reactor and put the facility back on line if proven to be safe,” said Kim Jong-shin, president and chief executive of KHNP, at a Ministry of Knowledge Economy briefing in Gwacheon.
“There have been safety concerns raised about the Gori-1 reactor and also suggestions to permanently stop its operation,” he said. “So we decided that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should perform a thorough inspection of the reactor and then we will discuss reactivation with the government based on the results of the inspection and if no problems are found.”
Kim did not specify how long the inspection will take or who will be part of the inspection team.
Currently, Korea operates 21 commercial nuclear reactors nationwide, and the oldest is the Gori-1, which began operation in April 1978 at the Gori Nuclear Power Plant in Gijang. The reactor went offline in 2007 when it completed its 30-year life cycle. The government extended the life of Gori-1 for 10 years in 2008, which is a common practice for many reactors around the globe.
With Korea looking to export its nuclear construction worldwide, any problems with their domestic reactors is cause for concern. In December 2009 Korea inked a $20 billion deal to build four reactors in the United Arab Emirates and is aiming to export six more reactors by 2020, according to the state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation.