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S.Korean activists warn of nuclear disaster from oldest reactor

by Yoo Seungki

SEOUL, June 2 (Xinhua) -- Green activists in South Korea on Monday warned of a devastating nuclear disaster in the country's longest-running reactor, calling for an eternal shutdown of it.

A group of 56 activists, including professors, artists, former ministers and religious persons, made a declaration at a press conference hosted by the Korea Green Foundation, calling for an immediate closure of the Gori-1 reactor, the oldest of the country 's 23 nuclear reactors.

The 30-year lifespan of the reactor, which has been in operation since 1978, expired in 2007, and it was extended by 10 more years to 2017.

The reactor has faced some 130 technical breakdowns and accidents of great and small scale in the past 36 years, accounting for around 20 percent of the total nuclear plant accidents during the period.

Citing the decrepitude and frequent troubles, the activists urged President Park Geun-hye to decide to abolish the oldest reactor in order to make South Korea a "safer" country.

President Park has vowed to make the country reborn as a "safe" nation since the ferry Sewol capsized and sank off the southwestern coast on April 16. The country's worst maritime disaster in some 20 years left more than 300 people, mostly high school students, dead or missing.

On Feb. 9, 2012, the reactor faced a blackout for 12 minutes, during which emergency generators failed to kick in. The power cut caused its cooling water to stop circulating, triggering fears over the possible meltdown as seen in the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

"The worst case scenario is a meltdown of the Gori-1 reactor like the Fukushima reactor," said Choi Yul, president of the Korea Green Foundation. "The lifespan of the Fukushima reactor was also extended."

A possible nuclear disaster at the decrepit reactor, located in South Korea's southeastern port city of Busan, could endanger millions of people living near the area. About 3.4 million people are living within a 30-km radius of the Gori-1 reactor.

The reactor was built as South Korea was forced to shift its attention from thermal power to an alternative energy source in the wake of the two oil shocks in the 1970s. The country aims to become one of top nuclear exporters, looking to export some 400 billion U.S. dollars of reactors by 2030.

Most nuclear reactors in the country were built along the eastern coastal line, making them vulnerable to tsunami threats. There are six nuclear reactors currently in operation and two others under construction in the area where the oldest reactor is running, which makes it an unprecedentedly massive cluster of nuclear reactors.

The activists claimed the ferry disaster and the reactor's lifespan extension had some in common, saying that the government' s insistence on "the safety of our nuclear reactors" was equivalent to orders made by the ferry sailors to passengers to " stay where they were."

As a bureaucratic Mafia, or the collusive links between bureaucrats and businessmen which President Park vowed to sever, was one of the main causes of the ferry accident, the nuclear Mafia caused corruption and illegalities in the nuclear industry, delivering faulty parts used in nuclear reactors and fabricating certificates for the parts.

As public interests on safety picked up following the ferry disaster, all the candidates running for the Busan mayor offered the closure of the Gori-1 reactor as one of their key campaign pledges. Other candidates in nearby areas favored the shutdown ahead of the June 4 local elections, which will elect mayors, provincial government chiefs and local council members.

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