South Korea extends nuclear probe, risks power shortfall

Investigation into forged safety certificates for reactor components extended to three more facilities, a day after two reactors are shut down.

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SEOUL // South Korea's main nuclear power supervisor extended an investigation into forged safety certificates for reactor components to three more facilities yesterday, a day after shutting down two reactors.

South Korea generates 30 per cent of its electricity from 23 nuclear reactors at state-owned plants, and the government warned of the potential for unprecedented power shortages because of the shutdowns as demand peaks in winter.

Authorities were at pains to stress that the parts involved related to non-crucial aspects of the plants' operation and posed no risk to safety. Yet in the aftermath of the Fukishima nuclear accident in Japan, there were concerns the discovery could tarnish the image of the country's nuclear programme.

"The commission will verify all the components at the reactors by setting up a private and public team. We will make regulations to supervise them," said a member of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.

A spokesman at the commission said that members of the private and public joint team would be announced today at the earliest, along with their investigation schedules.

The three additional reactors under investigation are still running. The two reactors already shut down will remain closed until the parts are replaced.

The two shut reactors were found to have components with certificates purportedly from US and Canadian regulators that had been forged by the suppliers of the parts.

The latest incident comes after a series of problems in South Korea's nuclear power sector this year. Several reactors have been shut down for varying periods for malfunctioning, and officials at the state-owned Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) have been investigated for receiving bribes, according to local media.

"There were a lot of glitches earlier this year in reactors management. Those in charge of the matter often said they didn't know, but not knowing is also a problem," said Kim Jin-woo, president and chief executive of Korea Energy Economics Institute, a government think tank for energy policy.

KHNP, fully owned by the state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (Kepco), reported that eight firms that supplied parts had forged 60 certificates to cover 7,682 items between 2003 and 2012.

Kepco is working with Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation to build four nuclear reactors in the UAE. The plant is expected to be finished by 2017.