BAI slams Wolsong I nuclear plant shutdown process

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BAI slams Wolsong I nuclear plant shutdown process

National Assembly workers look at copies of a report submitted by the Board of Audit and Inspection on the government's decision to shut down the Wolsong I nuclear reactor. [YONHAP]

National Assembly workers look at copies of a report submitted by the Board of Audit and Inspection on the government's decision to shut down the Wolsong I nuclear reactor. [YONHAP]

 
Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power decided to shut down the country’s second-oldest nuclear reactor due to a faulty assessment that unfairly underestimated the economic advantage of keeping it alive, the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) said Tuesday.  
 
The BAI released Tuesday a report on its investigation of the energy corporation’s decision in 2018 to shut down the Wolsong I nuclear reactor early. “The economic effectiveness of continuing operation of the reactor was unreasonably devalued,” the BAI said in the report.
 
The BAI, however, avoided ruling on the validity of the state-run corporation’s decision.  
 
“At the request of the National Assembly, we focused the audit mostly on Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power’s decision-making process and fairness of the economic viability evaluation,” the BAI said. “There is a limit to saying this audit is a comprehensive judgment on the validity of the shutdown decision.”  
 
The BAI said an outside accounting firm submitted a report that undervalued the economic advantage of continuing the operation of the reactor to Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power in June 2018. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy already decided to shut down the reactor before the report was submitted, the audit report said.
 
According to the report, Baek Woon-kyu, President Moon Jae-in’s first minister of trade, industry and energy, decided on April 4, 2018, that the reactor would be shut down earlier than its scheduled closure in 2022.  
 
Other ministry officials followed through with Baek’s plan, the report said. They prevented Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power from considering any other options and influenced the company’s economic efficiency assessment.
 
“Minister Baek either had been aware of the practice or in a position high enough to know it, but he did not stop it,” the report said.
 
According to the BAI, some ministry workers, including a director, had tried to obstruct its investigation by deleting data and documents concerning the Wolsong I reactor.
 
The BAI said Baek deserves to be punished for having violated the State Public Officials Act, but no reprimand will be recommended because he retired from the government in September 2018.  
 
The audit board recommended the government issue a strong warning to the president of Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power and punish public servants who obstructed its audit.  
 
The Wolsong I nuclear reactor, right, is seen at the Wolsong Nuclear Plant in Yangnam County of Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang. [YONHAP]

The Wolsong I nuclear reactor, right, is seen at the Wolsong Nuclear Plant in Yangnam County of Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang. [YONHAP]

 
The Wolsong I reactor, which started its trial run in November 1982 and commercial operation in April 1983, stopped operating on Nov. 20, 2012, as its designed 30-year lifespan expired. The Park Geun-hye administration, however, decided in 2015 to spend 700 billion won ($616 million) to extend its lifespan through November 2022. The reactor subsequently resumed operation.  
 
Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power abruptly reversed the plan in June 2018, prompting speculation from opposition politicians that it made a political decision to accommodate President Moon’s nuclear phaseout policy. The National Assembly asked the BAI in September 2019 to investigate the legitimacy of the shutdown.  
 
Despite the request for an audit, the government permanently shut down the reactor on Dec. 24, 2019.  
 
The BAI, as it proceeded with its audit, faced fierce resistances from the government and the ruling party. It took 385 days to conclude the audit.
 
According to the National Assembly Act, the BAI was supposed to submit its report to the legislature by February, but the audit was postponed twice. When auditors decided on yet another delay just three days before the April general elections, BAI Chairman Choe Jae-hyeong replaced the director in charge of the audit and urged auditors to conduct an impartial investigation.  
 
Board of Audit and Inspection Chairman Choe Jae-hyeong [YONHAP]

Board of Audit and Inspection Chairman Choe Jae-hyeong [YONHAP]

 
The BAI conducted another audit for five months, and the conclusion was approved on Monday.  
 
After Choe initiated the second audit, politicians from the ruling Democratic Party (DP) started a campaign to pressure him to step down, speculating that the outcome was destined to be unfavorable to the administration. During National Assembly hearings in July, they said Choe had an intention to damage Moon’s policy and he must resign.
 
At the National Assembly’s audit on the government on Oct. 15, Choe admitted that the audit had faced unprecedentedly fierce resistance, including obstruction by public servants.
 
The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) demanded a criminal investigation into the government’s decision to shut down the reactor and public servants’ attempts to hinder the audit.  
 
A PPP lawmaker, Rep. Park Wan-su, said the early shutdown of the reactor in North Gyeongsang had caused about 2.8 trillion won of losses to the province’s economy and 320,000 people lost jobs. He said the central government must compensate the residents for shutting down the reactor based on a faulty assessment.
 
BY SER MYO-JA   [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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