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Nothing but crickets from BAI

Feb 22,2020
The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) has once again postponed releasing the results of its investigation into the process leading up to the decision to permanently retire the Wolseong-1 reactor, breaking its Feb. 29 deadline.

BAI Chairman Choe Jae-hyeong apologized for missing the deadline.

The investigation focused on allegations that Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) fabricated data to persuade the board to shut down the country’s oldest nuclear reactor before its extended lifetime ends in 2022. The probe was in part a response to demands from the legislative branch.

The BAI initially planned to release its findings by the end of December but put it off for two months. The National Assembly set the February deadline.

The government watchdog said it was unable to conclude the probe because it did not receive enough materials from KHNP. It had even carried out digital forensics to restore the data erased by the nuclear operator. The delay in the investigation only raises questions about the move from KHNP and the board.

The Wolseong-1 reactor was refurbished on a government budget of 700 billion won ($580 million) to extend its life for another 10 years after it reached the end of its original lifespan in 2012. The authorities should have thoroughly studied the ramifications to prevent this waste of public resources. If they did, they should have no reason to hide their findings.

The BAI’s delay also raises suspicions of buying time for the government until the April elections. The results may be unfavorable for the government officials who moved forward with the closure of the old reactor as a part of the administration’s policy to phase out of nuclear fuel. The BAI chief met with the prime minister before his announcement delaying the results.

It is a shame for the independent government watchdog if its activities come under political pressure. It could make an interim report to the legislature, even if its investigation is not complete, if it wants to avoid the appearance of playing politics. The BAI, however, claimed it is not required to make an interim report.

But at the same time, there is no regulation saying it shouldn’t. It must take action if it does not want to permanently damage the agency’s reputation as an independent body.