South Korea to expand nuclear energy despite growing safety fears

By Meeyoung Cho

SEOUL, Jan 8 (Reuters) - South Korea has no option but to
expand its nuclear power plant programme despite growing public
concern over safety in the wake of Japan's Fukushima disaster in
2011 and a series of scares that closed two reactors last year.

The proportion of South Koreans who considered nuclear power
safe fell to 34.8 percent in a survey conducted in November and
published on Tuesday, down from 40 percent in April 2011 and 71
percent in January 2010, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said.

The ministry has been sharply criticised for its role as
regulator and operator of the country's nuclear power plants,
and one of its subsidiaries was accused of suppressing negative
public opinion after the Fukushima disaster by not publishing

A fake parts scandal closed two reactors last year and the
industry suppressed details of the closure of the Kori No.1
reactor early in 2012.

"It is an urgent priority to recover people's trust and the
safety of reactors just as it is unavoidable to maintain nuclear
at a certain percentage of the total power supply, considering
the power supply and demand situation," the ministry said.

The two troubled reactors were fully restarted last week,
easing fears over winter power shortages.

Three others are offline for maintenance and operational
approval, but power supplies remain a concern amid peak winter
demand expected until the end of next month.

Asia's fourth-largest economy, which depends heavily on oil
and gas imports, plans to add 11 reactors by 2024 on top of its
existing 23 reactors which supply a third of the country's total

An earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011 killed
nearly 20,000 people and triggered the world's worst nuclear
crisis in 25 years when the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant was
destroyed, leaking radiation into the sea and air.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)