South Korea to restart nuclear reactor after maintenance, 5 still offline

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's nuclear safety regulator said on Friday it had approved the restart of one of the country's 23 nuclear reactors after a scheduled maintenance shutdown since Oct 1, but five others remain offline.

Asia's fourth-largest economy faces possible blackouts this winter after several nuclear plants were halted because of a safety scandal that started late last year and which has led to calls for its reliance on nuclear power to be scaled back.

Tests conducted during the maintenance show that the performance and operation of the reactor to be restarted and its related facilities were "satisfactory", the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said in a statement on Friday.

Of the five other reactors still offline, three have been shut since May because they have to replace cables that were supplied with fake documents.

Another has reached the end of its 30-year life span and is awaiting approval for an extension, while a fifth was closed last month to check welding work related to the safety of a steam generator.

The regulator gave approval for another reactor to start up last week after maintenance.

After Friday's approval, Hanul No. 1 in Uljin county, 225km south-east of Seoul, will supply electricity from Sunday afternoon, a spokesman at Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) said.

KHNP, fully owned by state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), operates all South Korea's nuclear reactors, which supply about a third of the country's power.

The safety scandal, which has led to the indictment of 100 people for corruption, and Japan's continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis have stirred the public debate about nuclear energy.

A study group commissioned by the Energy Ministry has recommended that nuclear power should be reduced to between 22 per cent and 29 per cent of overall generating capacity by 2035, compared with a government plan for 41 per cent by 2030.

The Energy Ministry is due to revise its energy policy next month after a series of public hearings.

Participants at a hearing on Thursday said the government should clarify how many new reactors would be added under its plan, although Kim Jun Dong, the deputy minister of energy and resources policy, said that had not been decided yet.

Mr Kim also told the hearing that South Korea had to decide at "a high level" if the range recommended by the study group for nuclear power would allow it to reduce carbon emissions and ensure stable power supply.

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