South Korea suggests Northeast Asia nuclear safety group

SEOUL Fri Aug 15, 2014 12:26am EDT

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during a ceremony marking the 69th anniversary of liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, on Liberation Day in Seoul August 15, 2014. REUTERS/Ahn Young-joon/Pool

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during a ceremony marking the 69th anniversary of liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, on Liberation Day in Seoul August 15, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Ahn Young-joon/Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Friday urged the creation of a nuclear safety consultative group in Northeast Asia, given the high number of nuclear power plants in the region and public concerns over safety.

South Korea operates 23 reactors supplying about a third of the country's power, but Japan's 2011 Fukushima disaster, North Korean nuclear tests and a series of domestic nuclear scandals have heightened public fears about nuclear radiation.

"Northeast Asia is a place where nuclear power plants are densely located," Park said in a televised speech for the National Liberation Day, noting safety has become a major issue for many people.

She suggested China, Japan and South Korea should lead the formation of a nuclear safety consultation body along the lines of Europe's Euratom, which coordinates research and ensures the security of atomic energy supply.

The United States, Russia, North Korea and Mongolia could also join the group, she said.

Seoul has been under pressure to cut its reliance on nuclear power since late 2012 when a series of safety scandals led to the shutdown of some reactors to replace parts supplied with fake certificates. It also faces the disposal of a rising number of spent fuel rods, temporarily stored at nuclear power plants.

In January, South Korea formally adopted a lower target for nuclear power, but still plans to double its nuclear capacity over the next two decades.

South Korea's nuclear watchdog also plans to ask Japan to share information to prevent radioactive materials being transferred between countries after some steel scrap from Japan was found to be contaminated with radiation.

(Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by Richard Pullin)