South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (right) and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a news conference after their summit in Seoul on May 21.
South Korea and the United States officially declared their alliance in the nuclear power industry at the recent summit. Their cooperation is likely to revolve around advanced reactor and small modular reactor (SMR) development and export, based on the United States’ technologies and South Korea’s construction capabilities. Their high-level bilateral commission (HLBC) meetings are to be resumed soon as well.
The alliance is because they have matching interests. The United States is home to nuclear power industry leaders such as Westinghouse Electric Company and no less than 93 nuclear power plants, the largest number in the world. However, nuclear power plant construction in the United States has been zero since 1979 and it lost its competitiveness in the industry. In the meantime, China and Russia have boosted their presence and the United States is regarding it as a security threat. The alliance is to weaken them in the nuclear power plant export market by utilizing the technologies and capabilities.
According to a report the U.S. government issued last year, the global nuclear power plant construction market is estimated to reach 940 trillion won in 2030. The South Korean government is aiming to initiate at least 10 overseas nuclear power plant construction projects by 2030 and the alliance can be a powerful tool for achieving it. Intellectual property right-related issues, which have hindered South Korea’s nuclear power plant exports, are expected to be solved in the HLBC, which has been closed since August 2018.
At present, the South Korean government is working on a 170 MW SMR that is boron-free, control rod driver-embedded, etc. At the same time, private-sector companies are increasing investment in the field after the government promised more support. For example, Doosan Enerbility and X-energy are already working with each other and SK Group and TerraPower recently signed an MOU for business cooperation. GS Energy, Doosan Enerbility, Samsung C&T and NuScale Power signed an MOU last month in order to build and run SMRs worldwide.