South Korea and USA boost in high-tech and energy cooperation including nuclear

28 April 2023

South Korea and the USA have signed 23 business agreements to boost bilateral cooperation on advanced industries and energy during a business partnership event in Washington. Some 45 senior corporate officials from both countries attended the event on the sidelines of Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s state visit to Washington. The state visit, marking the 70th anniversary of the US-South Korean alliance, included two events hosted by the Federation of Korean Industries – the Korea-US Business Roundtable and the Korea-US Business Forum held at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

President Yoon was accompanied by official from 21 Korean companies including Doosan Co, Doosan Robotics, SK, HD Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering, Hyundai Engineering & Construction, Lotte Chemical Corp, Samsung, Korea Electric Power Corp (Kepco), and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP). The US firms included Boeing, Rockwell, GE, Centrus, Terrapower, Nuscale, Holtec International, ExxonMobil, Plug Power Siemens and many others.

The agreements, mostly memoranda of understanding (MOUs), included 10 involve high-tech industries and 13 related to clean energy sectors, which covered nuclear and small modular reactors (SMRs). According to the MOUs, companies, research institutes, and public institutions will promote cooperation through joint research, human resource exchange, product development, and certification standards.

Kepco and SK Materials signed an agreement to jointly promote clean hydrogen and carbon capture and storage fields with Exxon Mobil. Kepco and GE Vernova agreed to fortify partnerships to facilitate the utilisation of ammonia as an energy source. ExxonMobil signed an agreement with state-run Korea National Oil Corp and SK Materials to facilitate clean ammonia and low-carbon businesses. HD Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering and SK E&S are to co-operate with US Plug Power GE Vernova on blue hydrogen projects. Doosan and Doosan Robotics are to strengthen ties with Rockwell Automation on technology development and marketing for smart factory operation

In the SMR sector, Doosan Enerbility, along with Korea’s Export-Import Bank (Kexim) agreed to co-operate with US NuScale Power. Also, SK Innovation and SK agreed to pursue joint projects with KHNP with respect to Terra Power’s natrium reactor.

Doosan Enerbility’s three-way agreement with NuScale Power and Kexim aims to foster cooperation in the in the marketing, strengthening of local supply chains and export financing assistance SMRs. The MOU also included technical support to better promote and supply NuScale Power's VOYGR SMRs to the global market. NuScale will be able to use Korea's global supply chains to build its SMRs.

This is a further step in a relationship between Doosan Enerbility and NuScale dating back to 2019 when they jointly agreed on investment of $104m. At the end of 2022, NuScale placed the first upper reactor pressure vessel long lead material production order with Doosan. Then in March 2023, the two signed an agreement to manufacture SMRs to be supplied to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a power plant project scheduled to be completed by 2029. John Hopkins, President & CEO of NuScale Power, said: “The momentum towards creating a domestic and global supply chain to deploy our SMR technology is accelerating.”

NuScale noted that Kexim continues to explore potential opportunities to provide credit facilities to NuScale and facilitate overseas business of Doosan in collaboration with NuScale. “With Kexim’s assistance, Doosan and NuScale will be able to deploy NuScale VOYGR plants worldwide and utilise a Korean supply chain when deploying NuScale plants in the Asian market.” VOYGR SMR plants are powered by NuScale Power Modules, small pressurised water reactors that can each generate 77 MWe or 250 MWt and can be scaled to meet customer needs through an array of flexible configurations up to 924 MWe (12 modules) of output. The NuScale SMR is the first and only SMR to have its design certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The “4th Generation SMR Business Strategic Cooperation Agreement” signed by SK, SK Innovation, KHNP, and TerraPower. Envisages collaboration in the demonstration and commercialisation of Natrium, Terrapower’s advanced SMR based on sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR) technology. SK and SK Innovation jointly invested $250m in TerraPower in August 2022 . The new agreement secures an opportunity for SK to participate in TerraPower's SMR project and pioneer deployment opportunities with the mission to decarbonise global operations.

TerraPower says it aims to accelerate the commercialisation of the Natrium technology through this agreement. The company is building a 345 MWe demonstration SMR in Wyoming, with a target completion date of 2030, and the US Department of Energy (DOE) is supporting this project with approximately $2bn under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). PacifiCorp, an electric utility company and subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, has partnered with TerraPower to study the construction of up to five additional Natrium plants within their service territory by 2033. In their recently released Integrated Resource Plan, PacifiCorp has identified the need for two additional Natrium plants in Utah to replace retiring coal generating stations.

At a signing ceremony, TerraPower President Chris Levesque said these partnerships “are critical for the first Natrium reactor and the many additional facilities we plan to construct in the US and globally”. He added: “We already have a strong partner in SK and look forward to adding the recognised global expertise of KHNP as a long-term partner to help realise the benefits of advanced nuclear energy.” Levesque also stressed the importance of public/private partnerships. “Today’s collaboration announcement, supported by government and corporate leaders, further exemplifies the important role the public and private sector have in bringing new technologies to market.”

Korean Industry Minister Lee Chang-yang said: “The Korea-US alliance has gone beyond the traditional military and security alliance to become a technology alliance. We hope these agreements will create big achievements and the Korean government will actively support corporate activities.”

Image: Korean Industry Minister Lee Chang-yang (2nd from left) with officials from Doosan, NuScale Power and the Export-Import Bank during the recent advanced industry and clean energy partnership event in Washington (courtesy of Doosan Enerbility Co.)

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