Compounding the difficulties at the Yeonggwang plant, the ministry also reported the discovery of microscopic cracks in passages linking control rods to one of the reactors. An official at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation said the cracks affected warning signals on control panels but not operation of the reactors.
The concern about nuclear power plant safety standards is likely to rise to the fore in the current presidential campaign in which Park Geun-hye, the conservative candidate of the ruling Saenuri or New Frontier Party, faces two liberals who have both called for decreasing reliance on nuclear power. Ms. Park has not stated her policy on nuclear power but is believed to favor maintaining the current program with more stringent safeguards.
Moon Jae-in, candidate of the opposition Democratic United Party, and Ahn Cheol-soo, the entrepreneur who’s running as an Independent, have called for moving toward alternative energy sources, including wind and solar power. Mr. Ahn in particular has the strong support of Seoul’s liberal mayor, Park Won-soon, who’s demanded the shutdown of one nuclear plant as an initial step toward decreasing dependence on nuclear power.
The underlying problem, however, is that South Korea has virtually no oil or natural gas deposits and is running out of coal. Nuclear power has long been seen as the only way to meet the demands of a growing industrial economy. Hong Suk-woon, Korea’s knowledge and economy minister, warned of severe power cuts that might affect industry and individual consumers as a result of shutdown of the two Yeonggwang reactors.
Critics of nuclear power, however, believe the risks are still too high. “We have to decrease our dependency on nuclear power,” says Mr. Lee, a former member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, warning that “corruption and safety matters” may eventually lead to a nuclear accident.