ECGD backing for 'low impact' nuclear power plants in South Korea

first published 2 May 2007

Many NGOs have long been concerned about the screening and assessment for their environmental, social and human rights impacts that the UK's export credit agency, the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), carries out before providing support to projects requesting its support.

On 2 May 2007, The Corner House requested from ECGD (under the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA) its case screening questionnaires and case impact screening assessments/checklists for four controversial projects for which it had provided support in 2004-05:

  • Shin Kori Power Station Project in Korea: support given to the Doosan Engine Co. a subsidary of Alstom Power;
  • Shin Wolsuing Power Station in Korea: support given to Doosan Engine Co;
  • Jindal Vijayanagar Steel Ltd in India: support given to VAI industries to build No 3 Single Strand Slab Casters; and
  • Northey Technologies -- two dry compressors, Kala Naft Co, Iran.

These questionnaires are designed to assess the potential impact of a project that has requested support from ECGD. Potential impacts include environmental destruction, abuse of labour rights and so forth.

On 14 May 2007, ECGD replied saying that it had had such a volume of FOIA requests in the previous year (2006) that it could not fulfill them. It therefore rejected this request on the grounds that the volume of information requested was "manifestly unreasonable". It indicated, however, that if The Corner House re-submitted a request for just two of these four projects, it would consider it.

On 7 June 2007, The Corner House replied with a separate request: that ECGD carry out an internal review of its rejection and assess just how much time it would take to fulfill the original request. It stressed that ECGD should in any case be making publicly available the documents requested (its impact screenings and assessments).

But The Corner House also indicated that it would like the information on one of the Korean nuclear power plants (Shin Wolsuing Power Station) and the Indian steel plant; these two were chosen because of significant objection to the projects in Korea and India respectively.

On 24 July 2007, ECGD released some of the requested information. Its June 2005 Case Impact Screening checklist for the Korean power plant indicates that it considered this project to have a "low" potential impact, even though its own guidelines indicated that, as a nuclear power plant, it should be classified as "mediim" or "high".

On 20 August 2007, The Corner House asked the ECGD why it had not supplied the full Impact Questionnaire for the Shin Wolsuing Nuclear Power Plant in Korea on the grounds that it was “not relevant” to the request. 

On 25 September 2007, ECGD replied that it had not provided the Impact Questionnaire because it did not have one -- because ECGD had classified the nuclear power plant as having "low potential impacts", a more detailed impact questionnaire had not been required.

The issues arising from these FOIA releases are discussed in a Corner House submission and oral evidence given to the UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee in 2008.