Kepco needs massive shake-up

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Kepco needs massive shake-up

Last Thursday’s massive power outage across the country poses a serious threat to our national security. The unprecedented power cut has incurred damages not only on the private sector but also on our military facilities, including those on the tense border with North Korea. What would have happened if the mishap had occurred at a time of war?

Forcing Minister of Knowledge Economy Choi Joong-kyung to resign and holding related officials at Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) accountable for the fiasco are rather trivial issues. What is needed is a colossal revamp of the state-run power company through a special committee or a special audit on Kepco directed from a very high level.

It all started with a loose work ethic among officials at one of the most pivotal national enterprises. Kepco shut down 25 power plants for maintenance checks and it had no contingency plans for a scorching bout of heat that hit the country Thursday, which was forecast well in advance. Choi’s participation at a banquet at the Blue House during the power outages is completely unfathomable.

The lax discipline among Kepco employees primarily stems from appointments based on cronyism under the current administration. Kim Jin-pyo, floor leader of the opposition Democratic Party, said that 17 out of the 22 executive posts at Kepco and its eleven affiliates came from the Hyundai Group, Lee Myung-bak’s presidential transition committee, the Grand National Party, Korea University and people from Daegu and Gyeongsang.

It is too early to tell if such connections are directly related to the crisis. But the government must accept the opposition’s criticism openmindedly and take measures to check if those officials really have any expertise in power supply and demand. A kind of housecleaning is necessary if it really hopes to avert a crisis like this in the future.

The first investigation into the cause of the outages revealed that the electricity reserve margin at the time of the blackouts was 240,000 kilowatts, not the 1.49 million kilowatts Kepco announced, which could have caused a national blackout. It is pitiful for the Lee administration, which has frequently boasted of striking multibillion dollar contracts to build Korean-designed nuclear power plants overseas, to invite such a rudimentary accident. It is time for the administration to wake up from its lame-duck doldrums and conduct a thorough and extensive revamp of Kepco.
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