South Korea: Nuclear scandal widens

Chain Reaction #119, Nov 2013,

A scandal in South Korea concerning the use of counterfeit parts in nuclear plants, and faked quality assurance certificates, has widened.

In May 2012, five engineers were charged with covering up a potentially dangerous power failure at the Kori-I reactor which led to a rapid rise in the reactor core temperature. The accident occurred because of a failure to follow safety procedures. A manager decided to conceal the incident and to delete records, despite a legal obligation to notify the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission. In October 2012, authorities temporarily shut down two reactors at separate plants after system malfunctions.

Then in November 2012, the scandal involving counterfeit parts and faked certificates erupted. The reactor parts included fuses, switches, heat sensors, and cooling fans. The scandal kept escalating and by the end of November it involved at least 8,601 reactor parts, 10 firms and six reactors and it was revealed the problems had been ongoing for at least 10 years. Plant owner Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) acknowledged possible bribery and collusion by its own staff members as well as corruption by firms supplying reactor parts. Two reactors were taken offline to replace thousands of parts, while replacement parts were fitted to other reactors without taking them offline.

In recent months the scandal has continued to expand:

Late May 2013: Two more reactors were shutdown and the scheduled start of two others was delayed because an anonymous whistleblower revealed that "control cables had been supplied to [the] four reactors with faked certificates even though the part had failed to pass a safety test."

June 20: Widespread police raids. Prosecutors reveal that the number of plants suspected to have non-compliant parts (or at least paperwork) has widened to include 11 of South Korea's 23 reactor reactors.

July 8: The former president of KHNP was arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into nuclear industry corruption.

July 10: Search and seizure occurred at Hyundai Heavy Industries after the Busan Prosecutor's office obtained warrants relating to the nuclear parts scandal.

July 11: Details emerged on the involved parties in the Hyundai headquarters raid, including persons and exchanged funds. Contract bribery is included in the charges.

October: Seoul has selected global ship classifier Lloyd's Register to review the safety certificates of the country's nuclear reactors in the wake of a scandal over forged documents, the energy ministry said.

Even before the scandals of the past two years, a 2011 IPSOS survey found 68% opposition to new reactors in South Korea. The proportion of South Koreans who consider nuclear power safe fell from 71% in 2010 to 35% in 2012.