Korean private company GS Energy has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Uljin County in North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea, to consider the use of NuScale Power's small modular reactor (SMR) technology to provide heat and power to the planned Uljin Nuclear Hydrogen National Industrial Complex (UNHNIC).

GS Energy and UNHNIC will collaborate on a feasibility study for the construction of a NuScale VOYGR-6 SMR power plant at. They will also cooperate in supplying electricity and heat to the complex and involve partner companies in the project.

Construction of UNHNIC, which is estimated to cost KRW400bn ($300m) began in 2022 as part of South Korea's plans to develop hydrogen as a future energy source and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. It is part of wider government plans to build national industrial complexes across the country to foster high-tech industries such as semiconductors, future mobilities and robots. UNHNIC is expected to be a significant contributor to Korea’s hydrogen industry, which is projected to reach a market size of KRW70,000bn by 2050.

The Uljin Nuclear Hydrogen National Industrial Complex is a part of Korea’s efforts to promote hydrogen as a future energy source and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. With the signing of the MOU with GS Energy, the project is expected to move forward with increased momentum, with potential benefits for the Korean economy and the global transition to cleaner energy sources.

The MOU is the latest in a series of agreements between NuScale and South Korean companies. In April 2022 NuScale, along with Samsung C&T Corporation, Doosan Enerbility and GS Energy agreed to explore the deployment of NuScale's VOYGR power plants. This followed a series of investments made by the three companies in 2019 and 2021.

NuScale’s Power Module is a pressurised water reactor with all the components for steam generation and heat exchange incorporated into a single 77 MWe unit. It is the first SMR design to receive approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and is the basis of the VOYGR plant design. NuScale offers a 924 MWe 12-module VOYGR-12 plant as well as the four-module VOYGR-4 (308 MWe) and six-module VOYGR-6 (462 MWe). Uljin County plans to build a VOYGR-6 plant by 2030, when UNHNIC is slated to open. Once the SMR plant is completed, GS Energy will operate it.

The Korea Energy Daily says the latest MOU aims to deepen SMR ties between Seoul and Washington and pave the way for Korean energy companies to enter SMR market set to grow to KRW630,000bn by 2035. GS Energy is a unit of GS Group that is the NuScale’s main Korean partner. “The deepening partnership between NuScale Power and Korean companies is expected to help Korean companies advance their SMR capability significantly, which could lead to exports of Korean native SMRs in the future,” the paper noted.

“We have chosen NuScale Power’s SMR because it is considered the world’s safest SMR,” said Uljin County Governor Sohn Byong-bok in a telephone interview with The Korea Economic Daily. “Our goal is to build an industrial complex centred around nuclear and hydrogen energy by recruiting more hydrogen companies that can benefit from an SMR plant, the primary role of which is to supply eco-friendly power to the industrial complex,” he added.

"We expect that the Uljin Nuclear Hydrogen National Industrial Complex Project, which is being promoted by the county, will gain momentum through this MOU,” he noted. “Through close cooperation with the central government departments such as the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Science & Technology, and the Ministry of Industry, the project will go smoothly and we will actively cooperate to make it possible."

The Korea Economic Daily said Doosan Enerbility and Samsung C&T Corp “will likely build an SMR with NuScale Power’s technology and related plant and facilities”. It noted that Doosan Enerbility has become a major stakeholder in NuScale Power after investing $140m, while Samsung C&T invested $70m and GS Energy $40m. Together hold the second largest stake of 15% in the NuScale.

Uljin already hosts the Shin Hanul NPP. Unit 1, with an APR-1400, an advanced pressurised water nuclear reactor, began operation in December 2022 and unit 2 is due to be completed in with two more units (3&4) under construction.

Image: Rendering of the NuScale Power SMR plant (courtesy of NuScale Power)