S. Korean nuclear engineers indicted for power failure cover-up

May 31, 2012 9:32 am 

SEOUL, May 30 — Five senior engineers were indicted Wednesday for their alleged attempt to cover up a power outage at South Korea's oldest nuclear reactor in February, which heightened public safety concerns over nuclear power.

Prosecutors in Busan said that the five, including a 55-year-old chief engineer at the Gori-1 reactor, had agreed to conceal the power failure in a bid to avoid expected punishment and public criticism.

The Feb. 9 blackout at the Gori-1 reactor lasted 12 minutes, during which the emergency generator failed to kick in.

The power cut did not lead to any accidents even though it forced the reactor's cooling water to stop circulating.

Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., the state-run nuclear plant operator, did not report the incident to Nuclear Safety and Security Commission until over a month later. By law, nuclear accidents must be reported to the commission within 15 minutes.

Prosecutors accuse the five of making a series of violations of nuclear safety regulations.

The engineers failed to issue an emergency alarm required by the law, and omitted the power loss from the daily operation log, according to prosecutors.

They also removed nuclear fuel inside the reactor, despite the failure of the emergency generator.

The incident sparked a public uproar over nuclear safety, which prompted Knowledge Economy Minister Hong Suk-woo to offer a public apology and a promise of a thorough investigation.

The Gori-1 reactor, which has been in operation since 1978, is the oldest of the country's 21 nuclear reactors. It went offline in 2007 when it completed its 30-year life cycle, but was given a 10-year extension.

The South Korean government has vowed to continue its nuclear energy program despite heightened concern following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in March 2011.

About 31 percent of South Korea's power supply came from nuclear plants in 2010, according to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.

The government plans to increase the dependency to 59 percent by 2030 by constructing more nuclear reactors. (PNA/Xinhua) RSV/mmg

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