Korea’s nuclear reactors have been under scrutiny from an inspection team dispatched by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government following a series of nuclear incidents, including one related to the use of uncertified parts.
This is a clear sign that the UAE increasingly feels uneasy as it watches the government’s investigation into manufacturers of parts supplied to nuclear reactors here for nearly a decade using forged quality certificates.
Depending on the outcome of the inspection, this case will tarnish the country’s reputation and will have a negative impact on the government’s move to export nuclear reactors. In the worst case scenario, it could affect nuclear reactors under construction there.
The Middle East country recently dispatched an inspection team to Korea to check and monitor related information on the ground. A nuclear power plant housing four reactors is under construction in the UAE by the state-run Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), which is at the center of the incidents.
A group of inspectors from the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) is visiting Seoul with the duty of conducting a planned inspection, according to news reports from media outlets in the UAE and its neighboring countries. The Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS) confirmed their arrival in Seoul two weeks ago but didn’t offer any detailed information.
Experts said UAE inspectors’ presence here indicates increasing doubt over the quality of Korean nuclear facilities and the scandal, in the worst case scenario, could cost Korea an opportunity to export more reactors to the oil-rich Middle East nation.
President Lee Myung-bak has touted nuclear reactors as the new star in the country’s vaunted export lineup. Lee is scheduled to visit the UAE later this month to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, including one related to additional exports of nuclear reactors, with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The UAE plans to select a provider of four additional nuclear reactors next year.
“The FANR has been closely tracking developments in Korea since the news broke. It currently has an inspection team in Korea that is conducting a planned quality inspection,” spokeswoman Fatema Al Ansari was quoted as saying by UAE media. “They (inspectors) have been able to question KEPCO and gather preliminary information on the issue.”
The official said the team has sought clarification from its Korean counterpart. An initial assessment by the UAE team suggested minimal impact on the safety of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant that KEPCO is constructing, according to a report.
Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, the nuclear arm of KEPCO, has come under fire for its use of uncertified parts in reactors since 2003. The incident has forced two reactors to be put offline until early January as engineers replace nearly 8,000 non-core parts including fuses, cooling fans and power switches, threatening the nation with an “unprecedented” power shortage just as it enters winter. KINS and the prosecution are independently conducting investigation into nine producers of the parts.
Nuclear engineering professor Whang Joo-ho at Kyung Hee University said it seems to be true that the parts supplied on forged documentation have “no direct link to the safety of the reactors” and they fundamentally remain good enough.
Yet Whang added the incident has already “tarnished Korea’s reputation as nuclear reactor manufacturer, which could have serious repercussions.
“Plants are not the only things KEPCO exports. It also markets operation and management systems and other solutions and technology related to reactors,” he said. “One of the core tasks of the management system is to monitor the quality of the parts, whether you call them essential or non-essential. The latest incident doesn’t inspire confidence that what KEPCO is offering is good enough.’’