SEOUL, Nov. 17 (Korea Bizwire) – Two days after a 5.4-magnitude earthquake hit the southeastern city of Pohang, the dispute over decommissioning nuclear power plants is gaining new life.
Environmental groups that support the current administration’s nuclear energy phaseout policy have based their arguments on the potential dangers posed by natural disasters like earthquakes.
In a statement made yesterday, the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement reiterated the need to scale back nuclear energy operations in southeastern Korea, saying, “On the heels of the Gyeongju earthquake last year, there has been a quake on the Yansan fault line.”
Last September’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Gyeongju was the most powerful recorded in South Korean history. With the November 15 earthquake in nearby Pohang, only about 20 km away, the Yeongnam region has seen record-setting natural disasters in successive years.
Green energy group Energy Justice Actions issued its own statement, calling for a concerted anti-nuclear power administrative policy and a halt to all ongoing reactor construction before “a bigger accident happens”.
These views have been met on the other side of the aisle with accusations of “blowing things out of proportion”. Kyunghee University’s professor of nuclear engineering Jeong Beom-jin said regarding the statements, “Safety measures currently put in place are more than sufficient. Those who are trying to stir the pot by bringing up the recent earthquake present no arguments grounded in science.”
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology’s Jeong Yong-hoon agreed, saying, “As was discussed extensively during the public hearings over nuclear reactors Shingori 5 and 6, at present [the reactors] are well prepared for the threat posed by earthquakes.” The professor of nuclear and quantum engineering added that a quake registering 6.5 or even 7.0 on the Richter scale would not destabilize the power plants in place.
The professors’ assertions have been upheld by inspections undertaken by the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corporation, which announced that neither the earthquake nor the ensuing aftershocks have caused any significant structural damages.
The organization is in the process of upgrading the earthquake-proof capabilities of 21 of the 24 reactors from 6.5 to 7.0 magnitude threats by next June. A total of 18 reactors are located in southeastern Korea.