S Korean govt apologizes for nationwide power blackout

Updated: 2011-09-26 23:07


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SEOUL - The South Korean government on Monday apologized for the rare nationwide blackout that affected more than a million homes and workplaces earlier this month.

Authorities admitted miscalculation of power supply and demand and a lack of interagency information-sharing caused the blackouts on September 15, retracting their initial claim that an unexpected peak in power demand due to unusually high temperatures led to the unprecedented rolling power cuts.

On the day in question, the state-run Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) was forced to resort to rolling power cuts in major cities to keep the power consumption under control. Some 1.62 million households and thousands of mid- and small-sized companies were affected by the rare blackout. About 2,900 were trapped in elevators while traffic signals were out.

"The government will drastically revise contingency plans and improve communication among agencies concerned," the prime minister's office said in a statement, officially acknowledging the blunder. "We will also take measures to better inform the public."

The government will hold those responsible for the fumbling responses accountable, Yim Jong-ryong, minister of the prime minister's office, said in a press briefing earlier in the day.

More than 3,000 complaints demanding a total of 17.7 trillion won in compensation have been filed against the KEPCO as of Sunday, according to the prime minister's office. The government has set up an ad hoc committee to review the cases.

Lawmakers, both left and right, are voicing criticism in rare unison, demanding the state-run energy trading bourse Korea Power Exchange (KPX) be held responsible for failing to assess power demand. Speculation over a possible merger between the KEPCO and KPX has emerged.

President Lee Myung-bak weighed in with criticism. "It makes my blood boil... I feel ashamed of even talking about it," he was quoted as saying by local media during his recent visit to the KEPCO.

Some opposition lawmakers and members of the Korean Power Plant Industry Union, however, were quick to point out that many key officials at the country's 12 major power agencies, including the KEPCO and KPX, are close chums of the president.

"Low morale among working-level officials, caused by the Lee Myung-bak administration's cronyism, is the root cause of the power outage," Kim Young-hwan of the Democratic Party, who head the parliamentary economic committee, said recently.

As finger-painting continues, at least one person has stepped out to take responsibility.

Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Joong-Kyung has offered to resign over the power outage in a country with otherwise high- quality electricity infrastructure. His official resignation is expected to come as early as early October.