APR: your source for nuclear news and analysis since April 16, 2010

Sunday, February 9, 2014

South Korea - Parts investigation expands, fear of DPRK reactor seeded

Two developments regarding nuclear energy and nuclear reactors in South Korea to report in this update....

First, South Korea's nuclear regulator (NSSC) has expanded its investigation into falsified or inadequate certification for nuclear plant parts to include parts made outside South Korea, including such parts made as far back as 2008.  According to reporting by Yonhap News, eight certificates for such imported parts have been found in an initial investigation which will stretch to over 37,000 certificates eventually.  As I've reported here and elsewhere, South Korea will leave no stones unturned in rooting out these problems.  At the moment, the sources of the parts (nations, names of manufacturers) have not been released publicly on the NSSC website.

Second ...  It was reported at the end of January in Jane's Defense Weekly that North Korea had restarted its Yongbyon reactor.  This is not really a surprise, but the Jane's report included an eyebrow raising amount of fear mongering over the design / construction, age, and operation of this particular reactor.  It took a short while, but eventually this report was picked up by news agencies publishing from within South Korea including Business Korea on 6 February and also (by way of editorial) the Korea Herald on 7 February.  The apocalyptic headlines augur disaster on a scale parallel with the Chernobyl accident and, in the body of the Korea Herald op-ed, promise worse things should a theoretical fire at the Yongbyon reactor itself spread to other nuclear related buildings on site.

Does everybody understand that the Yongbyon reactor has a twenty or twenty-five megawatt rating?  Does everybody understand that the rating of the Chernobyl unit which suffered the accident back in '86 was about three thousand two hundred megawatts?  (These are core thermal ratings.)  So the rating of the Yongbyon reactor is six tenths of one percent of that of the RBMK-1000 used at Chernobyl.  I just have to tell you, readers -- that's not going to cause a "disaster on a Chernobyl scale," even if the quite unlikely circumstances the "experts" predict occur, because it's just TOO SMALL.

That plain fact doesn't work well with the apocalyptic message contained in the Jane's report, so I naturally decided to figure out who it was - really - that was saying these things.  I decided to pursue the qualifications ... or motivations ... of one of the listed "experts" who was not in or from the country - Peter Hayes, listed in the Jane's report as being from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. 

I'm not going to go into detail as to what I found.  Suffice it to say that Hayes is associated with a number of energy policy and nonproliferation interests, including the Nautilus Foundation, which is an organization that seems to believe in the "Nuclear Establishment" belief - this is the belief that all things nuclear are inextricably linked in governments, in policies, in the actual operative sense, and in the mind of people and therefore each and every time nuclear energy comes up in any discussion so must nonproliferation.  Claims made by the contributors to this article - all of them - generally fall flat on technical inspection as related to the scope of any potential accident here when compared with Chernobyl.

Inspection?  Yes.

Too small.  Tiny core inventory compared to RBMK-1000.  Not a realistic comparison.

Further, relating back to the Jane's article, there's no good reason to make any such statement as "it's unclear whether or not Chernobyl experience is taken into account operating the Yongbyon reactor" - a statement made in the Jane's article that's not attributed specifically to any of the named contributors.  If it's unclear, then it's unclear; if you don't know, you don't know.  That doesn't mean it is or isn't.  But the deliberate inference is that it isn't - and that's just a hair away from telling a lie.

South Koreans have far better things to worry about than this when they choose to worry.  One might choose conventional war with North Korea, or else perhaps a nuclear weapons test in North Korea that vents unintentionally to the atmosphere before one chooses a graphite fire at the Yongbyon reactor that somehow spreads to the entire complex.  It's important to understand that while the accident at Chernobyl-4 occurred in April, 1986, Chernobyl-3 right next to it continued operating until the year 2000.  The other units also operated for a number of years after the accident.  The site did not burn down; there's no reason to expect it to.  Neither did anything of the sort happen at Windscale in the UK.  These assertions of a site-clearing fire are essentially without merit.

As readers here know, I've been keeping a close eye on nuclear energy in South Korea for some time now, and have recently published an article on it at the ANS Nuclear Cafe site.  I'll also keep an eye, now that I see developments, on the potential anti-nuclear element spreading in South Korean press.

2:15 PM  2/9/2014

1 comment:

  1. Re: "... If it's unclear, then it's unclear; if you don't know, you don't know. That doesn't mean it is or isn't. But the deliberate inference is that it isn't - and that's just a hair away from telling a lie."

    Thank God for a good man who states what others falter to even stammer! Good report, good man!!

    I also hope the S. Koreans are quick enough to nip the FUD in the bud before it poisons anymore attitudes towards nuclear.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY