A suspicious shutdown

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A suspicious shutdown

The decision by the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) to shut down the Wolseong-1 reactor ahead of its legal retirement age has raised suspicions. It was discovered that the state reactor operator sought legal advice from two law firms in June 2018 on whether it could seek damages from the government if losses occurred from the early retirement of the reactor. The company would not have raised such a question to the lawyers if it had not expected losses from a shutdown.

However, the operator convinced board members that it could save money if it stopped the reactor. The company could be right — if it was sure to be compensated for any losses from the shutdown. But its lawyers concluded that there were no legal grounds to ensure damages coverage. Yet KHNP went ahead with the shutdown plan.

The decision has been baffling in many ways. KHNP did not hand out a full study of the Wolseong-1 reactor. Although it had a 50-page due diligence report, it only gave a two-page summary to board members. Even that had been tweaked. An early version said it was better to keep the reactor running. The revised version said the opposite by changing variants in estimates of the plant’s economic value.

The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI)’s investigation of the process was also dubious. After KHNP did not submit necessary files, the BAI had to use digital forensics to restore deleted files from KHNP computers. KHNP seems like it had something to hide.

The Wolseong-1 reactor life was extended after repairs costing a whopping 700 billion won ($580 million). The reactor belongs to the people who paid for it with their tax money. Decommissioning a reactor and wasting that much tax money must obviously be justified. Still, the process was obscure. The BAI embarked on an investigation in October upon a legislative order. But it has not been able to announce its findings although six months have passed. The BAI has held audit committee meetings throughout this month but still has not reached a conclusion.

Many suspect the BAI withheld its findings so as not to affect the parliamentary elections that were held Wednesday. The watchdog should be ashamed of itself. The people will be closely watching the findings of an independent government watchdog.
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