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Korea gears up for advanced reactor development

South Korea’s Ministry of Science & ICT (MSIT) has signed a memorandum of understanding with eight Korean companies to cooperate on the development of next-generation nuclear reactors.

“While nuclear power is emerging as a core strategic technology due to the global climate crisis and reorganisation of the energy supply chain, competition for next-generation nuclear reactors such as small modular reactors (SMRs) and non-light water reactors is intensifying worldwide as market demand for nuclear power generation diversifies,” the ministry said. “Accordingly, the government has been actively promoting the securing of core technologies for the development of next-generation nuclear reactors, but in order to flexibly respond to rapidly changing market demand and successfully utilise the results of research and development so far, active participation and investment from the private sector is also necessary.”

A ceremony was held on 20 March in Seoul to mark the signing of the MoU between MSIT and the eight private companies: Century, Daewoo Engineering & Construction, Doosan Energy, HD Korea Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, Hyundai Engineering, Hyundai Engineering & Construction, POSCO E&C and Samsung Heavy Industries.

The ministry said the MoU is expected to serve as a foundation for disseminating the results accumulated through government-led research and development to the private sector and promoting private-led technology development, demonstration and commercialisation.

Through the MoU, the government and companies have confirmed their commitment to developing next-generation nuclear reactors, including the Korean-designed SMART SMR, molten salt reactors, high-temperature gas reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors. They have also agreed to continue close cooperation for joint technology development, technology transfer, acquisition of licences, and human resource training. A public-private consultative body is also expected to be operated to efficiently implement the MoU.

“In order to become a global leader in the nuclear energy market, which is rapidly being reorganised centring on next-generation nuclear reactors, the role of private companies that can respond quickly and flexibly is paramount,” said First Vice Minister of Science and ICT Lee Chang-yoon.

“Based on the public-private cooperation MoU, we will spare no effort in providing the necessary support for our companies to develop into top-tier next-generation nuclear reactor companies, such as transferring technology owned by government-funded research institutes, supporting licensing, and establishing a research association.”

President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May 2022, vowed to reverse former President Moon Jae-in’s policy of phasing out nuclear power, a policy which was brought in after he assumed office in 2017, and followed the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.

In July 2022, the South Korean government laid out a new energy policy that aims to maintain nuclear’s share of the country’s energy mix at a minimum of 30% by 2030. It also calls for the construction of units 3 and 4 at the Shin Hanul nuclear power plant to resume after design work was suspended in 2017 due to uncertainties about government policy on the construction of new reactors.

The new policy also aims to strengthen exports of new energy industries and “capitalise on them as growth engines”. It sets the goal of exporting 10 nuclear power plants by 2030, as well as the development of a Korean SMR design.

The following month, the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy signed an MoU with Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, Doosan Enerbility and nuclear energy equipment and materials manufacturers with the aim of revitalising South Korea’s nuclear industry. The MoU aims to improve the competitiveness of the nuclear industry ecosystem through shared growth, working together to contribute to carbon neutrality, responding to the energy crisis and stabilisation of power supply.

Source: World Nuclear News