SEOUL - South Korea's nuclear regulator cleared the way on Monday for one of six closed reactors to restart after checks on welding and said it had approved replacement cables for three more shut in a safety scandal, but it was unclear when these would restart.
Asia's fourth-largest economy faces severe power shortages this winter because of the scandal and related closures. A third of the country's power is generated by 23 nuclear reactors.
The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said in a statement that Hanbit No.2 reactor in Yeonggwang county, 250 km (150 miles) southwest of Seoul, could restart after checks on welding work on a steam generator. It had been shut since Oct. 30.
It also said that tests on new control cables had shown them to be "satisfactory" and these could now be installed in place of cables supplied with fake certificates in three reactors shut since May, plus another still under construction.
However, the commission said more tests were still required before the three could start up again. "The commission will thoroughly test their operations once the control cables are installed," it said.
The operator of the country's reactors, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), aims to complete the cable replacement and restart the three reactors by the end of December.
KHNP, fully owned by state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), will install cables provided by LS Cable & System in place of those from JS Cable, according to KHNP and LS Cable officials.
LS Cable holds 69.92 per cent of JS Cable. They are the only two control cable makers in South Korea.
The three reactors that need new cables are Shin Kori No.1 and Shin Kori No.2 in the city of Busan and Shin Wolsong No.1 in Gyeongju.
Another reactor is closed for regular maintenance and one is waiting to be cleared to carry on operating after reaching the end of its original 30-year life span.
The safety scandal, which started late last year when certificates supplied for some reactor parts turned out to be fake, has prompted calls for South Korea's reliance on nuclear power to be scaled back. It has led to the indictment of around 100 people for corruption.
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 ministry is due to unveil its new policy next month.