* Seven of 9 commissioners vote for restart-nuclear watchdog
* Wolsong No.1 shut in 2012 after reaching 30-year lifespan
* Given approval, 679-MW reactor to continue running to 2022
* Operator welcomes decision, aims to restart it in April (Adds more details and statement from nuclear operator)
By Meeyoung Cho
SEOUL, Feb 27 (Reuters) - South Korea’s nuclear watchdog said on Friday it had approved the nuclear operator’s plan to restart the country’s second-oldest reactor and continue running it to 2022, supporting the country’s pro-nuclear policy.
Seven of nine commissioners at the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission voted for the approval in a meeting that started on Thursday and lasted 14 hours, according to a statement from the nuclear watchdog.
The remaining two commissioners refused to vote and walked out of the meeting, the statement added.
The restart of Wolsong No.1, which started operating in 1983 and shut in 2012 after reaching the end of its expected 30-year lifespan, is critical to the fate of other reactors, including the oldest, Kori No.1, which had its lifespan extended by 10 years to 2017.
The watchdog’s review of the reactor has been closely watched, as concerns over nuclear power have grown since the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, revelations in 2012 of fake certificates for reactor parts in South Korea and the hacking of South Korea’s nuclear operator in December.
The nuclear reactor operator, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co Ltd (KHNP), part of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp, in a separate statement welcomed the watchdog’s decision.
“KHNP vows to continue operating all the reactors including Wolsong No.1 safely,” the statement from the operator said.
The statement added it aimed to restart the 679-megawatt (MW) Wolsong No.1 in April, as it should go through 30-to-40 days of regular tests after shutdown.
The nuclear operator runs 23 reactors, supplying about a third of electricity for Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest user of nuclear power, in January 2014 decided to cut its reliance on nuclear power to 29 percent of total power supply by 2035. But Seoul remains deeply committed to nuclear energy. (Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Mark Potter)