The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) released an inspection report that says the economic viability of the Wolseong-1 was unreasonably undervalued, which led up to its early closure. It asserts that the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy deliberately undervalued its economic advantage to run in tandem with anti-nuclear power policy of the Moon Jae-in administration. The controversy over the government’s nuclear power policy will become fiercer as a flaw was found in the process of economic viability assessment, which played a determining role in Wolseong-1’s early closure.
The report has found that the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) intentionally lowered electricity sales profits of Wolsong-1 and exaggerated cost saving effect in the closure scenario. It has also found that former Minister Baek Woon-gyu of Trade, Industry and Energy was actively involved in the process. The BAI reported Baek’s irregularities to the Ministry of Personnel Management and gave KHNP President Jeong Jae-hoon a stern warning.
The abrupt closure of Wolseong-1 in June 2018 to which 700 billion won was spent for a longer design life until November 2022 triggered a controversy that it was a rough-and-ready decision. The inspection that started from October last year after a request of the National Assembly took as long as 13 months, which is longer than the legal inspection period (five months) due to the backlash of the government and the ruling party that were concerned on the headwind against anti-nuclear power policy.
But the BAI has not concluded on the validity of Wolseong-1’s early closure. Final decisions are made with the majority of votes in a meeting of seven inspectors including the head of BAI. But some inspectors from Moon Jae-in’s presidential election campaign or the prime minister’s office defended the decision and sided with the government and the ruling party. Inspectors of the BAI, an institution whose independence is guaranteed by the constitution, must remain neutral and have the same level of authority as justices of the Supreme Court, considering their influence over the policy assessment. The fact that it was wishy-washy on the validity of the decision even after discovering flaws in the assessment should be criticized. It is a regressive attitude that denies raison d’être of the BAI, a constitutional institution.
The inspection laid bare the sabotage of the persons related to the ministry. Staff of the ministry went to the office at night when no one was there, and deleted hundreds of files saved on a computer. It was found that they even took out reporting documents for Cheong Wa Dae before submitting documents to the BAI. It is hard to believe that this was an act of working-level staff, considering the hierarchical characteristics of public offices. Chances are that someone in higher level promised to take care of the rest. The prosecution should investigate these cases in the future. The National Assembly will have to get to the bottom of this matter if necessary.