Korea Hydro Investigates Unexpected Shutdown at Oldest Reactor

South Korea’s nuclear operator is investigating the cause of an unexpected shutdown at the nation’s oldest reactor.

Operations at the Kori No. 1 reactor were halted at about 1 a.m. local time, Kim Tae Seok, a spokesman for state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co., said by phone today. Yonhap News reported that a turbine probably caused the malfunction.

Shares of Korea Electric Power Corp., the monopoly power distributor known as Kepco, fell as much as 3 percent in Seoul, the biggest intraday decline since Oct. 17, and traded down 2.6 percent at 32,250 won as of 10:32 a.m.

South Korea, which depends on nuclear energy for more than 30 percent of its electricity, has suffered power shortages over the past five years with supply keep failing to meet the soaring demand. The situation was further exacerbated in May, when the government suspended operations at two reactors and ordered the replacement of parts at two others after discovering components with faked safety certificates.

Kori No.1, which began operations in 1978, was commissioned by military ruler Park Chung Hee, the late father of South Korea’s current President Park Geun Hye, as part of efforts to spur economic growth and reduce reliance on imports of oil and coal. The regulator approved the reactor’s restart last month after it was closed in April for regular maintenance.

South Korea increased power prices by an average 5.4 percent last week, the second increase this year, to curb surging demand for electricity that has caused frequent power shortages. The nation consumes power at almost twice the average of countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development relative to the size of its economy, according to the Hyundai Research Institute in Seoul.

Growing Opposition

With public opposition to nuclear power increasing following the Fukushima disaster and the domestic safety scandal, an energy ministry-sponsored group of academics and state officials said last month that atomic energy should account for between 22 and 29 percent of power generation capacity by 2035. That compares with a goal of 41 percent set in 2008.

The energy ministry plans to adopt the upper-end of the working group’s recommended range, an increase from the current 26.4 percent reliance on nuclear power, Song Yoo Jong, director general of energy and resources policy at the ministry, said by phone on Nov. 8.

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