The Multinational Monitor



Korean government reacts to Multinational Monitor report on nuke safety

Multinational Monitor's story last month about "nuclear dangers in South Korea" received extensive coverage in the Korean, Japanese and European press, and has had an important impact on public policy in South Korea.

In February, the Monitor released a confidential World Bank report written by former General Electric executive Salomon Levy that criticized the safety and regulatory aspects of the South Korean nuclear power program. Westinghouse Electric and Bechtel Engineering Corporations play a major role in the program, which is financed largely by the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

The story about the Levy report was carried by United Press International, Japan's Kyodo News Service, two major dailies in Japan, and in newspapers in Italy, England and the southern Pacific. The Far Eastern Economic Review, the major business magazine in Asia, also covered the story.

On February 5, the Korea Herald carried two stories about the report, as did the Korean-language Korea Times. Both are pro-government newspapers that are usually heavily censored.

The Herald and Times stories led with denials by the Korean government that safety problems existed in the nuclear program. The Ministry of Energy and Resources told the Herald that "there is no safety problem at all in the country's power plants. They are perfect in facilities, operation, management and system." The stories on the denials were followed by dispatches from Washington about the Monitor's February 3 press conference.

The Korean government tried to deflect the Levy report's charges by using the argument that it was written "with American eyes and standards." The government also criticized the "bad way of publicizing Seoul's weakness" and the "politicization of the issue by anti-nuclear lobbyists," and cautioned that some of Levy's recommendations may be too expensive for the Koreans to implement. But they did agree that South Korea has a problem with the burial of nuclear wastes.

The public release of the information put the Korean government in an awkward position; the World Bank has enormous prestige among Korean officials, and the author of the report, Salomon Levy, is well respected by nuclear power experts.

On February 11, Korean President Chun Doo Hwan "instructed the minister of Science and Technology to do the utmost to prevent nuclear accidents by learning fully the technology related to the safety of nuclear power plants from the advanced countries," according to the Korea Times. Then, in a February 14 news conference, the president of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) announced the formation of a consultative body to insure nuclear power safety, made up of representatives from the government, KEPCO, industry and research institutes. The formation of the organization was directly linked to the release of the Levy reports. "They say some antinuclear activists are shifting their attention to foreign countries," the KEPCO official said. "We must not give them an excuse to make Korea a target of their activities."

In a possible move to fend off the formation of an anti-nuclear movement, the government is publishing a brochure "explaining" how a nuclear plant works. The brochure is for distribution "among civil servants, MPs (legislators), students, intellectuals and other opinion makers," the Review reported.

Whether the explanations will convince a public already quite sceptical of government reports remains to be seen. Sources in the Korean opposition say that at least one anti-nuclear group has formed in Seoul, and will try to make a public issue out of the government's ambitious nuclear plans. With two more plants coming on line this year, the need for further public discussion on nuclear power - and the role of the U.S. government and multinational corporations in the program in Korea - is more pressing than ever.

Nicaragua markets own bananas, circumvents Castle & Cooke

When Standard Fruit, a subsidiary of Castle & Cooke, abruptly pulled out of Nicaragua late last October (see MM, Nov. 1982), the Nicaraguan government and the country's banana workers were faced with a dilemma: How to continue exporting this fruit, which had been marketed entirely by the U.S.-based agribusiness giant?

Self-reliance was Nicaragua's answer.

Immediately after Castle & Cooke's unexpected departure, Nicaraguan government officials busily began arranging the shipment of bananas via a Japanese line and the selling of the products through some twenty-five wholesalers on the U.S. Pacific coast.

The workers themselves did not stand idly by. Aided by young volunteers from the Sandinista Youth Association, the banana pickers labored day and night to assure prompt, high-quality deliveries.

"Morale was very high," says Larry Boyd, an American journalist who visited the plantation. Workers happily tore Standard Fruit labels and signs off machines and boxes, recalls Paolo Bosio, an Italian journalist in Nicaragua at the time.

The laborers also began constructing housing-one dwelling per family-with electric power and water lines. This marked a major improvement in living standards. "Until the pullout, Standard had entire families sleeping in just one small room," says Luis Vilchez, an official of the Sandinista Workers' Council. "Standard had them working basically like animals."

Nicaragua's experience following Standard's exit sets "a symbolic precedent," says Bosio. "For the first time the workers said, 'We can do it alone'-without a large transnational company."

- David Kowalewski

Arms sales to Guatemala on hold

The Guatemalan government does not have enough foreign exchange to pay for spare helicopter parts made available by the Reagan Administration's lifting of the U.S. arms embargo, according to a press officer in the Guatemalan embassy in Washington.

Last month Multinational Monitor reported that the lifting of the embargo would open the door for a cash sale of Huey helicopter parts from Bell, a subsidiary of Textron Corporation.

A factor in the Guatemalan government's decision may have been the Reagan Administration's security assistance proposal for fiscal year 1984, which includes $10 million in loans to buy military equipment and $40 million in economic support funds. While the economic aid cannot be used for military purposes, the funds may free up money for the Rios Montt government to spend on military purchases, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information told the Monitor.

One way or another, Bell/Textron will profit from President Reagan's decision that Rios Montt has been given "a bum rap" on human rights.

- Jeff Bentoff


In last issue's story on the Depo-Provera hearings, we incorrectly identified Steve Minkin as a former official with AID. Minkin was actually former chief of the nutrition program in Bangladesh under UNICEF, not AID.

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