19 June 2017

South Korea Marks Nuclear Policy Turn by Shutting Down Oldest Reactor

South Korea Marks Nuclear Policy Turn by Shutting Down Oldest Reactor

World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR), 19 June 2017

The Kori-1 reactor in Gijang County north of the city of Busan was disconnected from the power grid on 18 June 2017, exactly forty years after it started generating electricity, on 19 June 1977. Operated by Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), it becomes the first commercial nuclear reactor in the Republic of Korea to shut down for decommissioning. Over many years the reactor had been at the centre of civic resistance to its continued operation, including from the nearby city of Busan, which escalated in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident. The shutdown, though agreed under the previous administration of President Park, comes as the newly elected President Moon has committed to phase out nuclear power in the country by limiting lifetimes to a maximum of 40 years. Attending a closure ceremony at Kori-1, President Moon Jae-in declared: “We will completely reexamine the existing policies on nuclear power. We will scrap the nuclear-centered polices and move toward a nuclear-free era. We will eliminate all plans to build new nuclear plants.”

In 2012, the CEO of KHNP was forced to resign over the cover-up of a station blackout at Kori-1 on 12 February 2012, when the reactor was without power for 12 minutes. KHNP did not report the accident to the regulator until March 2012. In 2014, all political candidates in the June elections in Busan called for the closure of Kori-1, due to concerns over safety at the plant which has been plagued with failures. KHNP had been pushing for a second 10-year extension since 2015, but had been opposed by environmental groups, civil society and politicians. In a first for the nuclear program of South Korea, on 12 June 2015, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced that it would request the closure of the Kori unit 1 reactor by 18 June 2017. On 16 June 2015, KHNP confirmed it would not apply for a life extension and the reactor would be shutdown.

On 9 June 2017, the Korea Nuclear Safety and Security Commission formally approved the formal shutdown of the Kori reactor.

Decommissioning is planned to begin in 2022, to be completed by 2032, and cost 63.47 billion won ($559 million), according to KHNP estimates.