South Korea widens nuclear lapses probe; KEPCO chief resigns

A nuclear power plant located in Yeonggwang, South Jeolla Province

  • Investigators to inspect all 23 Korean nuclear reactors
  • KEPCO chief tenders resignation, for “personal reasons”
  • KEPCO shares close down 3 pct at 4-wk low
  • Officials say no risk to exports to UAE

South Korean regulators expanded a probe over fake safety certificates on Wednesday to cover all the country’s 23 nuclear reactors, in a move that could dent rock-solid public support for the industry and threaten billions of dollars worth of exports.

Two reactors remained shut, raising the prospect of winter power shortages, as the government looks into how thousands of parts for the reactors were supplied using forged safety documents.

Kim Joong-kyum, the president and CEO of power utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), which owns the operator of the nation’s nuclear plants, tendered his resignation for what KEPCO officials said were “personal reasons”. An economy ministry official said the presidential office would decide this weekend whether to accept Kim’s resignation. KEPCO shares ended down 3 percent at their lowest close in four weeks.

The closure of the two plants and concerns of more widespread potential problems with South Korea’s large and growing nuclear programme come after last year’s nuclear disaster in neighbouring Japan.

“Following Fukushima, our residents have become more and more concerned about safety levels at the reactor,” said Na Seung-man, who chairs the local council in Yeonggwang county, some 300 km (186 miles) southwest of the capital Seoul and home to the two shuttered reactors.

South Korea’s Nuclear Safety & Security Commission said it set up a team of 58 private and public investigators to inspect all the country’s reactors to see if they were supplied with parts with forged certificates.

“The team will inspect all 23 reactors, which will take some time, as you can imagine,” a spokeswoman for the commission, which supervises nuclear safety, told Reuters. The commission said it plans measures to improve supply systems, quality controls and external auditing.

FAKE PAPERS

Eight companies submitted 60 false certificates to cover more than 7,000 parts used in the two reactors between 2003 and 2012, and Economy Minister Hong Suk-woo told parliament that most of the documents, which purported to come from certifying body UCI, were forgeries.

A senior ministry official told Reuters that UCI was one of 12 U.S. certifiers, but was not one of the eight firms under investigation. The firms have not been named.

Due to maintenance, other glitches and the investigation, seven of South Korea’s 23 nuclear reactors – which generate close to a third of the country’s electricity – are now closed. The authorities have stressed that the parts are non-crucial and there is no safety risk.

Public support for nuclear power remains strong in South Korea, even after the Fukushima disaster last year, and Seoul plans to build another six nuclear reactors by 2024.

The regulator, however, has come under fire.

“The problem here is that nothing has been done to put in place a system that will allow for oversight, at a time when we need stepped up safety management,” opposition legislator Oh Young-sik of the Democratic United Party told parliament.

NO RISK TO BIG CONTRACT

The Korean investigation had not prompted the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to reconsider its 2009 order for some $20 billion worth of nuclear plant and construction work contracted to a KEPCO-led South Korean consortium, a spokesman for the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) told Reuters in Dubai.

Also, Byun Jun-yeon, an executive vice president at KEPCO in charge of reactor exports, told Reuters after arriving from the UAE on Wednesday that the fraud would not damage the utility’s export drive.

“The effects of this development on existing contracts like the UAE will be insignificant,” he said. “From what I understand, the parts that were fraudulently certified were not key to the function of the nuclear reactor, rather they were for general usage in non-critical aspects.

“It’s an ethical failure.”

By Meeyoung Cho and Somang Yang

Nov 7, 2012

Article from Reuters

Related Article :

S Korea shuts nuclear reactors, warns of power shortages

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