| The Board of Audit and Inspection on Monday announced the results of an inspection into the crisis management situation of domestic nuclear power plants, which vividly illustrated the reactors` insensibility about safety and security. The findings showed that the safety systems and technology of such facilities were world-class but that their managers and operators were guilty of complacency and irregularities.
According to the government`s internal watchdog, 8,601 imported components with fake quality certificates were supplied to the plants. Korean companies also supplied 1,555 parts with counterfeit certificates over five years, with 436 parts used at the Gori and Yeonggwang reactors. According to the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, they were not important parts that require the suspension of plant operations. Yet a seemingly series of irregularities involving the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., which operates the plants, justifies an overall examination.
The bureau also discovered that plant employees conspired with parts suppliers to embezzle 1.6 billion won (1.5 million U.S. dollars). Moreover, the nuclear power company was unaware that a company designated as a domestic parts developer supplied components purchased from other makers at more than double the purchase prices. Certain parts suppliers conspired to fix prices in public bids to raise supply prices. The plant operators also showed a serious lack of safety awareness. The central control system of a reactor must be separated from the external Internet to prevent hacking, but staff at four plants connected their office computers with Internet connections with the central control system. In 2010, Iranian nuclear reactors were infected with a computer virus that affected their control systems. A similar incident could have happened in Korea.
The commission, a regulator in charge of nuclear safety, and the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety, an examiner of nuclear safety, also failed to play their roles. The institute left it up to inspectors to decide whether to conduct on-site inspections of nuclear safety. The government watchdog discovered problems that were not mentioned in the commission뭩 report on the cover-up of a March power outage at the Gori plant. Had the commission done its job properly, it would have discovered the problems.
Due to the fake parts and malfunctions, six of the country`s 23 nuclear reactors, which are responsible for more than 30 percent of the nation뭩 power generation, have been suspended. The public is fearful of a major power shortage this winter. Since the nuclear power company was spun off from the Korea Electric Power Corp. in 2001, the plant operator has become a closed society of nuclear experts. Corruption and safety lapses have been rampant in an organization with poor systems for internal control and external monitoring. It is time to sever the chains of structural corruption and irregularities at nuclear power plants that have continued for 31 years.