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2017-11-16 17:02
Compared to major earthquakes, the magnitude 5.4 quake that struck Pohang, some 370 km southeast of Seoul, Wednesday would hardly make news outside of the country.

However, the seismic tremor shook the entire nation, literally and figuratively, forcing Korea to put off the College Scholastic Ability Test for a week. This is the first delay since the government introduced the state test system for high school seniors 24 years ago.

The earthquake throws into sharp relief two things _ Korea is no longer a country free from concerns about tremors, and, or despite the fact, this country is dismally prepared for it.

What’s alarming was the Monday temblors, the second strongest in seismic intensity, came only 14 months after the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that hit another southeastern city Gyeongju. Citizens of the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom reportedly have yet to recover from its aftermath completely.

The Korea Meteorological Administration deserves some praises at it sent text alarms within 19 seconds, quick enough for some people to feel their building tremble only after they received the message.

Unfortunately, we have few goods words to tell about other sectors of the nation’s preparedness for major quakes. According to official statistics, less than 40 percent of government buildings and 20 percent of private structures have been designed to withstand seismic events.

Had 80 percent of the schools in Pohang been built quake-proof, as is the case in Japan, educational officials might not have needed to postpone the CSAT, which is a once-in-a-lifetime event for the numerous test-takers.

To the relief of many, the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power announced the nation’s 24 nuclear reactors, including the six nearby Pohang, were running without any problems. Officials also said all nuclear power stations have been built to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 6.5, or 7 for more recently built ones.

The safety-related officials can ill afford to remain complacent. Seismic experts do not rule out the possibility of Korea being hit with a quake of magnitude 7 or even higher.

Some even say the latest tremor might just be a precursor of a far stronger quake. No amount of caution would be too much if a major earthquake comes. If such a worst-case scenario becomes a reality, far more than the CSAT will be at stake.

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