Power market developments: regulators
South Korea's regulatory changes20 April 2012
Before October 2011, the South Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology was responsible for nuclear safety regulation and R&D, including the promotion of nuclear energy. Although nuclear power plant regulation was separated at a ministerial level (nuclear power comes under the Ministry of Knowledge and Economy), its dual role as both promoter of nuclear power and regulator of state-owned nuclear power utilities such as Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power led to some controversy.
In the July 2009-March 2010 period, three bills were introduced in the National Assembly, and reviewed in its science committee. Their common goal was to establish a standalone, independent regulatory body. The Fukushima Daiichi accident expedited the review process, and a bill to establish the Nuclear Safety & Security Commission was passed in June 2011 and enacted in October.
With the formation of the Nuclear Safety & Security Commission as a dedicated regulatory body responsible for safety, security and nuclear safeguards, the role of MEST has been restricted to nuclear promotion policy and research & development support. NSSC now reports directly to the president. NSSC also takes control of two technical expert institutes, the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety and the Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control, from MEST. These institutes perform technical reviews and inspections for NSSC.
NSSC’s independence is written in law, and not only in its founding act. It is specially exempted from the law that allows the prime minister to overrule an act of any ministry when deemed unlawful or unjust. Commissioners (nine) are given a fixed three-year term (and can be reappointed once). They cannot be dismissed against their will except in limited cases, and may not be given unfair instructions or be subject to interference in their jobs. On the other hand, they are disallowed from participating in political activities. Candidate commissioners must have been out of the nuclear industry for more than three years to be eligible. The commission liaises with members of a supporting technical committee. The law states that any technical committee member found to be receiving money, goods or other profits from atomic energy businesses is liable to up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The NSSC is now headed by two government appointees, chairperson Dr C. S. Kang, former professor emeritus at Seoul National University, and vice-minister level Dr C. H. Yun, former president of KINS. They liaise with a technical committee, headed by chairperson Dr U. C. Lee, professor at Seoul National University. The secretariat office consists of two bureaus and 90 staff. The safety policy bureau operates five resident offices, at NPP sites Kori, Wolsong, Ulchin and Yonggwang and at a radwaste repository site office located in Keongju, Keongbuk province. The radiation protection and emergency planning bureau operates five offsite emergency management centres near NPPs.
The Korean regulatory body has implemented practical measures to improve public confidence in it. Such measures could include: improving the regulatory system & strengthening competence; holding meetings on the results of inspection reports (in addition, commission meetings are in principle public); strengthening the interface between the site office and residents; allowing public participation in the regulatory process; disclosing information about incidents; establishing a public communication division; meeting regularly with media. Most of these measures were also implemented by the previous regulator and KINS. However NSSC, having its own public affairs department, may develop new strategies to further improve public confidence in the regulator.
By an NEI correspondent.
This article was published in the April 2012 issue of Nuclear Engineering International magazine.Related ArticlesTowards enhanced nuclear safety in Japan Reducing independenceFilesNew organizational structure of NSSC