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Yeonggwang 3 Shut Down, People are Nervous
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Cracks were found in six control rod tunnels, key components, in unit 3 of Yeonggwang Nuclear Power Plant in South Jeolla Province. Yeonggwang 3 was shut down on October 18 for annual maintenance, and was scheduled to resume operation on November 24.

During inspection, experts discovered the cracks and are now investigating their cause after having suspended operation until the end of the year. The Yeonggwang Nuclear Power Plant had suspended its units 5 and 6 until the end of the year after it was recently revealed that parts with forged certificates were used. So news of the cracks is fueling the anxiety among the people.

The control rod tunnels are straw-shaped parts, which help guide the control rods--a key device in controlling the nuclear fission--to properly fit into the reactor. Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corporation announced, "Since there were no penetrating holes, just microscopic cracks, there is no risk of radiation leakage or any other safety problems."

Citizens protest against the Yeonggwang nuclear power plant. The Kyunghyang Shinmun DB

However, this is the first time since Korea started operating nuclear power plants that a crack has occurred on key components and not simple parts. Experts say if the power plant had continued to run with the cracks, it could have led to an explosion of the reactor in the worst case. They've pointed out how fortunate it was to have discovered the cracks when the unit was shut down.

The problem is the lax regulations of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission. According to the notification of the current Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, which manages the safety of nuclear power plants, cracks in control rod tunnels are categorized as items that do not require a report to the superior office or a public announcement.

Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power discovered the cracks on November 3, but they did not even report it to its supervisory ministry, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. They made an announcement only after Democratic United Party lawmaker Yoo Eun-hye first revealed the existence of the cracks to the press on November 9.

In this process suspicions were raised about an attempt to conceal the problem. As the situation snowballed, an official from the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said there was a need to review measures to include cracks in the control rod tunnels and other minor issues among items that should be made public.

The discovery of cracks in Yeonggwang 3 has put the country in a state of emergency for this winter's power supply. The reserve power for January and February next year is 2.3 million kW. However, if Yeonggwang 3, 5, and 6 do not resume operation by the end of this year, production will fall by 3 million kW, which means we will lack 700,000 kW.

This forecasts a power crisis. Yet still, we must not rush operations of nuclear power plants. That's because the safety of nuclear power plants is top priority. We must seek other alternatives such as energy conservation measures.

The Federation for Environmental Movement expressed their concerns by saying, "If they resume operation of the nuclear power plants fearing a power shortage, we can never tell when an accident will occur again." The government will have to immediately carry out safety inspections of all nuclear power plants.

Copyright The Kyunghyang Shinmun. All rights reserved. Reproduction and redistribution without permission absolutely prohibited.

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