Lee’s nuclear push meets obstacle
By Kang Hyun-kyung
President Lee Myung-bak’s drive to win nuclear deals abroad has met an unexpected, formidable challenge from within as a state-run nuclear operator has been embroiled in malfunctions and corruption cases.
A cover-up of malfunctions and bribery cases not only revealed the moral hazard of officials at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corp. (KHNC), but also is poised to deal a blow to the credibility of Korea’s nuclear technology and safety.
Lee’s visit to the KHNC headquarters in Ulchin Friday came amid the scandal engulfing the state-run firm.
The President went to the southern coastal city to give a speech at the construction ceremony for two new reactors which will be completed with purely indigenous technology. Nearly 7 trillion won will be invested to build them no later than February 2018. An estimated 6.2 million construction workers, engineers and scientists will be employed in the mammoth project.
The visit coincided with a fresh money-for-business deal scandal.
On Friday, the prosecution said four KHNC staffers and a lobbyist had been arrested for taking money from companies in return for a deal to supply nuclear power plants. The four staffers received between 20 and 180 million won after promising to use replacement parts manufactured by the companies. A lobbyist identified by only his last name Yoon served as a middleman connecting the companies to the KHNC people.
The corruption scandal came as an embarrassment to President Lee as he has touted home-grown nuclear technology and safety to overseas buyers as the global nuclear push showed signs of declining after the Fukushima incident last year.
Fears of radioactivity have spread around the world as the northeastern region of Japan was battered by a monster earthquake and ensuing tsunami which led to the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear reactors.
The crisis in Japan poured cold water on the so-called Nuclear Renaissance referring to the phenomenon of governments’ jumping on the nuclear energy bandwagon to meet soaring demand for electricity.
Several nations, including Germany, announced a rethink of their plan to build nuclear power plants. But emerging countries China and India showed no signs of scraping plans to build the plants as they need to meet a surge in energy demand.
Lee strove to counter the waning global nuclear push, touting the strength of South Korea’s nuclear technology and safety.
He stressed on several occasions that nuclear energy is the most suitable energy source at present as it is clean and meets the rising demand for electricity.
Lee has sold South Korea’s nuclear technology after the nation won a deal to build nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2009.