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Security breaches threaten South Korea’s nuclear power stations

December 2014

Following a September online media report about a nuclear security breach, Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy conducted security checks on power stations across the nation.

The checks found that security codes and passwords of 19 staff at two state-run nuclear power stations had been leaked to subcontractors.

Staff had shared their login IDs and passwords for the internal computer system with employees of radioactive waste management companies. Staff should have escorted these people during their visits, but instead they gave their security codes away because they did not want to spend time guiding and supervising visitors.

Subcontracted maintenance workers went into the computer system of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., the state operator of nuclear reactors, and approved themselves for assigned jobs to dispose of radioactive waste on the premises of the reactor. One subcontracted employee stored data on an unlicensed USB. Food delivery people also entered sealed security areas near the nuclear reactor without staff accompanying them. The checks also found that about 77 percent of the CCTVs installed at the reactors did not work. Visitors could come and go as they pleased, with no record of who they were, where they went, or what they did.

Security at the nuclear power stations was completely compromised.

Both the ministry and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, the government’s nuclear reactor operator, were not aware of the lax security and carelessness until the news report broke. In its security evaluation of the state nuclear reactor operator, the National Intelligence Service gave it a top score this year and last year, raising even more questions.

In another incident, this November, a fire broke out in the nuclear fuel storage facilities of a Nuclear Power Plant, but none of the workers noticed it for over an hour. Eventually, smoke from the fire was seen and the fire extinguished. Only one of the two fire alarms was operating, and that was inaudible. The alarm was also displayed in the main control centre but staff did not notice it.

This incident came only a few months after an exercise training staff in preparedness for fire fighting that included a check of systems, equipment, and procedures.

South Korea relies heavily on nuclear power and will do so for years to come.

As one newspaper commented, this requires the “elimination of incompetence, corruption, and lax safety mindsets.” A goal still to be achieved. 




Asia | Data Protection

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