Korea probes forged quality certificates

07 November 2012

South Korean regulators are investigating how non-safety-critical parts were apparently supplied to a number of the country's nuclear power plants using forged quality control certificates. Two reactors have been shut down while such parts are replaced.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy announced on 5 November that state-owned utility Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), which owns and operates all 23 of Korea's nuclear power reactors, had allegedly been supplied with falsely-certified parts for at least five of them. The company told the ministry that eight unnamed suppliers - reportedly seven domestic companies and one US company - forged some 60 quality control certificates covering 7682 components delivered between 2003 and 2012.

The majority of the parts were installed at Yonggwang units 5 and 6, while the rest were used at Yonggwang units 3 and 4 and Ulchin unit 3. Yonggwang 5 and 6 have now been taken offline and will remain so until the parts have been replaced. KHNP aims to complete the replacement by the end of this year. Parts at the other three units will be replaced without taking the reactors offline.

Resignations tendered

According to media reports, the heads of both KHNP and Kepco have said they will resign.

KHNP CEO Kim Kyun-seop took over as head of KHNP from Jong-shin Kim, who resigned in April 2012 in the wake of a safety-related incident at the Kori nuclear power plant and subsequent concerns over safety culture. He has said he will step down once the matter of the unapproved parts has been resolved.

Kepco president and CEO Kim Joong-kyum has reportedly also tendered his resignation, though for "personal reasons."

Some 230 types of components - including fuses, cooling fans and power switches - are said to have been supplied to KHNP by the eight suppliers over the ten-year period. However, the parts are said to be "non-critical" to the safe operation of the reactors. The ministry said that 95% of the components - which have a total value of about 820 million won ($782,500) - were manufactured in Europe and the USA.

According to the ministry, many of the quality certificates for the components - which are purported to come mostly from an undisclosed overseas quality accreditation body - have been found to be forgeries. KHNP uses a total of twelve accreditation organizations worldwide.

Korea's Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) has said that it will now investigate all 23 of the country's nuclear power reactors to verify whether they have been supplied with components with forged quality certificates. The commission said that it has set up a team of public and private investigators to help with the task.

The NSSC intends to introduce measures to improve supply systems, quality controls and external auditing. KHNP also said that it would tighten its audit of nuclear components.

The discovery is not expected to impact Korea's nuclear export ambitions, according to Byun Jun-yeon, executive vice president for reactor exports at KHNP's parent company, Korea Electric Power Company (Kepco). Speaking to Reuters, Byun said, "The effects of this development on existing contracts like the UAE will be insignificant. From what I understand, the parts that were fraudulently certified were not key to the function of the nuclear reactor, rather they were for general usage in non-critical aspects." He added, "It's an ethical failure."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News