South Korea says IEA wants its nuclear sector to be more transparent

SEOUL Thu Nov 22, 2012 4:04pm EST

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SEOUL (Reuters) - The International Energy Agency (IEA) wants South Korea to bring more transparency to its nuclear power sector and strengthen the independence of regulators to increase trust in the safety of its plants, the economy ministry said on Friday.

The agency, which advises industrialized nations and represents 28 oil importing countries, was due later on Friday to unveil a report on South Korea's energy policies for the first time since 2006.

South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, depends heavily on oil and gas imports but has 23 nuclear reactors that supply a third of its power. The country plans to add 11 more by 2024.

Its nuclear sector has been involved in a series of minor incidents and a scandal over forged certificates for parts used in what the government insists are non-essential operations - events that have caused two reactors to be shut.

Concern over nuclear safety in South Korea and worldwide has also been raised by last year's Fukushima disaster in Japan.

"The IEA suggests that adding reactors is a practical and efficient policy, and an excellent example to other countries, considering the situation that South Korea does not have many alternatives for other energy resources," the ministry statement said.

"However, the IEA proposes that it is necessary to secure trust by raising transparency and enhancing regulators' independence and roles, as safety concerns have heightened since the Fukushima crisis."

In Japan, only two of 50 commercial reactors are operating. The timetable for further restarts is unclear as a new nuclear watchdog tightens safety regulations to restore public confidence in the sector, lost after the meltdowns at the Fukushima plant caused by last year's earthquake and tsunami.

The South Korean government has been criticized for a lack of transparency over safety in its nuclear program and for the dual supervisory and promotion roles of its regulators.

South Korea is the world's fifth-largest crude oil importer and second-largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) buyer.

Friday's ministry statement also quoted the IEA as saying more consumers should be given the choice of buying gas at proper market prices from other sources and not just from state-run Korea Gas Corp (KOGAS), the world's largest corporate buyer of LNG.

(Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by Anthony Barker)

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