Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2013-2014
By John LaForge
A vast conspiracy of bribery and faked certification of power reactor parts in South Korea has resulted in the indictment in October of 100 people, including a former top state utility official.
At issue are what prosecutors say are fabricated quality reports concerning parts inside 14 (New York Times) or perhaps 20 (Wall St. Journal) of the country’s 23 commercial nuclear reactors.
The scandal surfaced in November 2012, and five reactors were shut down following the discovery of the faked safety certificates. Several engineers and reactor parts suppliers were jailed for their involvement in the corruption.
The scandal grew in May when two more reactors were found running with safety control cables that were approved using faked certificates. The government then began an investigation. Prosecutors have pledged to study over 120,000 test certificates issued over that last 10 years.
Boxes of cash were found in the home of one Korea Hydro official, and officials of Hyundai Heavy Industries have been arrested on bribery charges.
As a result of the May revelations, Kim Kyun Seop, President of South Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, the country’s nuclear reactor operating firm, was dismissed, and the CEO of Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) Engineering and Construction, An Seung-Kyoo, was also fired. Kepco runs all 23 of the country’s reactors, three of which are not in use.
Earlier, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye reportedly called the corruption in the nuclear power complex “unpardonable” and likened the industry to a mafia.
What AP news reports called “fabricated Environmental Qualification test reports” falsely verified the quality of cables that “control valves responsible for cooling nuclear fuel or preventing the release of radioactive materials during an emergency.” The Wall St. Journal reported Oct. 10 that parts suppliers are “suspected of bribing officials to accept their products with faked certification.”
The cables reportedly failed nine of 12 tests of their ability to withstand changes in voltage and pressure during a “loss of coolant accident” — the sort of meltdown disaster that struck Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, in 1979 and Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.
In addition to the defective cables at the four shutdown reactors, counterfeit cabling was reportedly discovered at two reactors now under construction.
The defective cables have been replaced at several of the reactors, and on Oct. 28 the government and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) confirmed that $2.8 billion had been spent on the project.
By November, the government had found that eight parts suppliers had sold KHNP 7,682 parts using forged quality certificates between 2003 and 2012. Last year the government said that over 10 years, more than 10,000 components were sold using fabricated warranties. One firm contracted to test reactor parts, Saehan Total Engineering Provider, skipped sections of exams, doctored test results and even certified parts that failed the tests.
In June, 10 of the country’s 23 reactors were offline for various reasons. In October Reuters reported that three of six reactors currently under construction had been delayed by allegations of unsafe designs
— CNN, Nov. 5; Reuters & New York Times, Oct. 28, Wall St. Journal, Oct. 12; and Agence France Presse, Aug. 13; and Bellona (Norway) June 11, 2013