The Korea Herald


Parliament grills knowledge minister over massive blackout


Published : Sept. 19, 2011 - 13:18

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SEOUL, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) - Parliament on Monday accused the government for false reports about the electricity reserve level that caused the recent nationwide blackouts that inconvenienced many businesses and private citizens, and its slow response to contain the fallouts.

South Korea reported massive blackouts last Thursday as unseasonably high temperatures pushed up demand to what the authorities called "dangerous levels." It forced them to temporarily cut power that affected an estimated 1.62 million households across the nation.

"Fabrication of the power reserve level is an illegal practice that the knowledge ministry and the Korea Power Exchange (KPX) are widely aware of," said Rep. Kang Chang-il for the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) in the annual parliamentary audit. The KPX is the country's state-run power distributor.

Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Joong-kyung, who is in charge of the country's energy affairs, admitted on Sunday that he received a false report about the electricity reserve level as energy officials failed to count the exact amount of power production at that time. He said that the actual reserve rate dropped to a mere 240,000 kilowatts at 3 p.m.

Kang said the power production rate was 77.1 million kilowatts (kW) on Thursday, while maximum electricity demand reached as high as 64 million kW with only 6.71 million kW set aside as emergency reserves, according to the government announcement.

However, the lawmaker claimed that the actual power production dropped to 64.8 million kW, excluding electricity that cannot be supplied due to high fuel costs. The figure left just 800,000 kW in reserve during the time of peak demand, he claimed.

Other lawmakers rebuked the government for its lax reporting system and called for the setting up of a comprehensive emergency management system to cope with such developments down the road.

"It's a big system failure that the government did not know of the false reports on the reserve level until the next day," said Rep. Park Jin of the ruling Grand National Party. He also questioned whether the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), the country's sole power service provider, and its affiliates can afford to compensate losses caused by the blackout.

"A sudden power suspension can be considered as a national disaster such as a typhoon or earthquake. There should be a system that makes it mandatory to inform the people of the incident immediately," said Rep. Lee Hak-jae from the GNP.

Others such as Rep. Kim Nak-sung of the opposition Liberty Forward Party argued that it is necessary to raise the electricity reserve rate to 15.6 percent as early as possible.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik offered a public apology for the power outage on Monday, saying, "I will set up an inspection team of all government ministries to reveal the cause of the accident and clarify who is responsible."