South Korea widens nuclear plants probe
Seoul, November 7, 2012
South Korean regulators on Wednesday expanded a probe over fake safety certificates to cover all the country's 23 nuclear plants in a move that could dent rock-solid public support for the industry and threaten exports worth tens of billions of dollars.
South Korea has won a contract to export nuclear plant worth $20 billion to the UAE and hopes for exports worth hundreds of billions of dollars over coming years.
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 offical said the presidential office would decide this weekend whether to accept Kim's resignation.
The country's Nuclear Safety & Security Commission said it set up a private and public investigation team 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.
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 US certifiers, but was not one of the eight firms under investigation. The firms have not been named.
Kepco shares fell as much as 5 percent to their lowest in four weeks, and last traded down 3.4 percent at 0510 GMT.
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. A further three reactors are being investigated to see if forged certificates were used to verify parts when they were built.
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 devastating accident at the Fukushima plant in nearby Japan 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. - Reuters