Our shady nuclear industryLast week, Prime Minister Chung Hong-won declared a “war” on corruption in the nuclear reactor industry. Announcing a set of measures to root out corruption in our nuclear industry, the prime minister promised severe punishment and stringent steps to prevent what he called “grave crimes” in the industry. Under the plan, the government will restrict private-sector hiring of employees from public nuclear-related institutions and promised to re-examine more than 120,000 test results of parts supplied to nuclear plants across the country over the last decade.
Despite such strong rhetoric, the public cannot shake off anxieties and doubts about deep-rooted corruption in the highly-exclusive nuclear power industry. A series of scandalous incidents underscore a close-knit and gang-like structural connection between the public and private nuclear reactor sectors.
Last December, the government also promised strong action to root out various types of irregularities in parts supplies after authorities discovered bribery and favoritism in deals between nuclear operators and parts suppliers. But the latest incidents and subsequent plant shutdowns proved how ineffective and vain the government’s previous promises were.
Contrary to what the administration vowed, shady deals have become more sophisticated and shrewd to escape prying eyes of supervisory bodies. In a recent interview with the press, Kim Kyun-seop, former CEO of Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, who stepped down following the institution’s scandalous involvement in recent fabrication of test results of substandard parts that led to the closure of four nuclear reactors, confessed that he met strong resistance when he tried to restructure and reform the agency that runs nuclear reactors across the nation. In addition, he admitted that some kind of strong supervisory mechanism is necessary to rein in greedy interest groups.
According to documents obtained by lawmaker Kim Sang-hoon of the ruling Saenuri Party, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power gave out hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance payments to employees who were forced to leave the company because of charges of bribery last year. The nuclear reactor operator also rewarded its employees a total of 100 billion won ($89.37 million) worth of bonuses last year although their performance was among the poorest in the public sector.
Employees of the public agency got payouts even as their corruption cost the nation billions of won in taxes. The institution has been in the grip of an out-of-control collective selfishness. The prosecution must start some severe investigations into these fishy deals and get prepared to call for strong punishment. At the same time, the government must reorganize and redesign the corruption-ridden system.