South Korea’s oldest nuclear reactor has shut down automatically today due to safety reasons, putting further strain on the country's government to resolve the pending electricity supply crisis.
The 587-megawatt reactor at the Kori nuclear station, about 300km southeast of Seoul, was built in 1978 and has recently undergone extensive maintenance, only returning to operation on 5 October.
According to Korea Hydro Nuclear Power (KHNP), the facility’s operator, the license to run the reactor was extended in 2007 until 2017.
"We are now looking into the cause of the shutdown and it is not yet clear when the reactor will restart," said the KHNP spokesman.
The incident puts further pressure on South Korea’s authorities who have been struggling to secure sufficient electricity generation capacity for the upcoming winter. With operations in six out of the 23 South Korea’s nuclear power plants having been halted since a major corruption scandal hit the industry in 2012, the officials warned the likelihood of power black-outs this winter is extremely high. Nuclear power covers about a third of South Korea’s electricity consumption and current industry data reveal South Korea's peak demand this winter will reach a record level of more than 81,000 MW, which is about 5,000 MW lower than the country's total supply capacity.
The news of the latest shut-down had arrived just hours before the South Korean cabinet was supposed to meet to discuss power supplies for the next months. However, the meeting was delayed until mid-December due to a separate issue involving three nuclear reactors, which were put off-line in May this year after it was revealed their safety documents were forged.
Two other reactors are currently out of order in South Korea - one awaiting its licence to be extended and a another one due to regular maintenance.
With the newest incident at Kori 1, the pressure on South Korea’s government will pile up to find a solution to replace the missing generation capacity before the demand peaks in January.
The Kori 1 reactor experienced several issues in the past. In February 2012, it was at the heart of an international scandal, which resulted in five senior engineers being charged for covering up safety problems. After regular inspections the reactor lost power for 12 minutes with a diesel generator failing to start. However, South Korea’s authorities didn’t report the incident until a month later when all nuclear fuel had to be replaced. The incident was subsequently evaluated as level 2 on the INES scale.
In June 2013 another reactor at the Kori station was shut down, and Kori 1 ordered to remain offline, until control cabling is replaced, which was revealed to have forged safety certificates.