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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 9)

All News 07:09 June 09, 2020

Political neutrality over audit
:BAI criticized for delay in reactor inspection

The powerful state audit and inspection agency has invited criticism for delaying the announcement of its findings following an inspection into a government decision to close a nuclear reactor. This led to the agency's chief apologizing for the delay Friday, saying he would conclude the inspection and reveal the results soon.

Yet it is still unclear when the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) will come up with a report on whether the decision was made in a legitimate and appropriate way. Controversy erupted in June 2018 when the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) decided to shut down the Wolsong-1 reactor in Gyeongju, 370 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Energy experts questioned the decision because it was made after the reactor's 30-year operational license was renewed in 2012 after undergoing repair work costing 700 billion won ($581 million) between 2009 and 2011. The renewed license was set to expire in 2022. Despite this, the KHNP decided abruptly to close the reactor earlier than the expiration date.

At the center of the controversy is the KHNP's report that the Wolsong-1 was not economically viable. The reactor operator has faced allegations that it manipulated figures related to profits in a bid to support the Moon Jae-in administration's policy of phasing out nuclear power plants. Actually, the KHNP is suspected of recklessly deflating the anticipated profit from 370 billion won to 22.4 billion won.

As the shutdown decision drew a public backlash, the ruling and opposition parties passed a bipartisan bill in September 2019 to request the BAI to investigate whether the KHNP estimated the reactor's economic value properly. Thus, the BAI should have wrapped up its inspection of the KHNP and released its results within a maximum five months which ended on Feb. 29 this year.

But the BAI ignored the legally binding deadline. Then it tried to finalize its inspection report just before the April 15 general election. But its decision-making audit committee refused to adopt the report, prompting speculation that the panel turned down the draft report because it allegedly concluded that the Wolsong-1 reactor was economically viable. If the speculation is true, the BAI cannot deflect criticism that it intentionally delayed making a report public in order to create a favorable environment for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea ahead of the election.

The BAI is a state inspection agency which should keep political neutrality and independence. If it loses these characteristics, it has no reason to exist. That is why it has lost the public's trust and confidence. If it wants to restore its integrity and credibility, the BAI should not curry favor with political power.

More importantly, the Moon administration should refrain from taming the BAI in an ill-conceived bid to push for a nuclear phase-out. The government has already been blamed for destroying the nation's nuclear energy industry with its policy of retiring 11 out of 24 nuclear reactors by 2030. It had better reverse its unrealistic energy policy and stop pressuring the state-run reactor operator and the BAI to follow its policy unilaterally.

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