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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 8)
Snowballing scandal

The nuclear corruption case is escalating into a high-profile political scandal involving powerful figures in the previous Lee Myung-bak administration after prosecutors detained a broker and a former ruling party official.

   The two allegedly belonged to the so-called Yeongpo line, a group of officials and politicians who came from Yeongil and Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, the former president’s hometown. They are suspected of taking more than 1 billion won from a provincial supplier of water management systems used in nuclear power plants in 2009 under the pretext of lobbying for export of the company’s products.

   During questioning, the prosecution reportedly secured a statement from the company’s CEO that the two had demanded 8 billion won, mentioning the name of Park Young-joon, former vice knowledge economy minister and a close aide to former President Lee, who had been jailed for his involvement in another corruption case. They are also charged with peddling influence to help the supplier receive policy loans despite the fact that such loans are reserved for small and medium-sized companies.

   With these revelations, the prosecution is expected to widen its probe, reaching out to other key confidants of the former president and possibly higher up. It’s dumbfounding that the two detained persons allegedly meddled even in the appointment of high-ranking officials at Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), the state operator of nuclear power plants.

   The public feels ashamed about what has been revealed so far in the corruption-ridden nuclear power industry, and is afraid that this might deal a fatal blow to ongoing negotiations to export Korea’s nuclear power plant systems to the United Arab Emirates for the first time. Late last week, the New York Times splashed the news about the entrenched irregularities in Korea’s nuclear power industry.

   In fact, the corrupt links between nuclear power companies, their suppliers and inspection companies were much more serious than had previously been known. A case in point is that investigators discovered boxes of cash worth nearly 600 million won at the home of a mid-level KHNP official.

   We can't overemphasize the importance of safety in our nuclear power plants, taking into account that even a slight breakdown could lead to a catastrophe. Given this, the government ought to strengthen its oversight of nuclear power plants where substandard components were installed.

   For now, it’s difficult to predict how far the prosecution’s probe into the nuclear corruption case will go. But prosecutors should get to the bottom of the scandal, bearing in mind that thorough investigations are directly linked to the lives of ordinary people, as President Park Geun-hye reiterated several times.