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South Korea Checking Nuclear Reactor Safety After Outage

South Korea’s government is going ahead with two new reactors even as citizen groups oppose more use of atomic energy in the wake of a local plant failure and the Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster in Japan.

State-run Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. had a ground breaking ceremony today in Uljin, 315 kilometers (196 miles) southeast of Seoul, to commence building the two 1,400-megawatt reactors after the government awarded licenses in December, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in a statement.

President Lee Myung Bak attended the ceremony along with more than 700 nearby residents, the ministry said. About 7 trillion won ($6.2 billion) has been earmarked to build the reactors, and the government will reflect “all requirements” cited in domestically and overseas studies to improve safety of the reactors, the ministry said.

The government said its position is unchanged on the need to expand nuclear-power generation. After the state utility failed to promptly report a power outage at its oldest reactor in February, local citizen groups campaigned against lifespan expansions for aging reactors.

Japan is set to be nuclear free for the first time in more than four decades this month as the last of its 50 reactors is scheduled to be shut for maintenance. The moratorium follows an earthquake and tsunami on March 2011 that crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear facility, triggering the worst radiation leak since Chernobyl.

South Korea, which gets a third of its electricity from reactors, operates 21, with seven more under construction. The first reactor in Uljin is slated to be completed by April 2017, and the second one by February 2018, the ministry said today.

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