South Korea’s Ministry of Environment has released a revised draft of its K-Taxonomy including nuclear power. The ministry had excluded nuclear power generation in its draft released in December 2021. However, the European Union (EU) included nuclear power generation in its taxonomy in July and this decision influenced the new draft.
Nuclear was included in the new draft on condition accident-tolerant fuel (ATF) is used by 2031 and detailed planning is undertaken for construction of a high-level radioactive waste disposal facility. These requirements are applied to every nuclear power plant with a construction or operation permit valid in or before 2045.
As to construction of a disposal facility, no deadline has been set, unlike the EU taxonomy, which specifies a deadline of 2050. The ministry says this is to avoid duplication with the government’s high-level radioactive waste management plan, which was finalised in December last year. The 2031 date set for introducing ATF is six years later than the EU schedule.
According to the new draft, low-interest green finance can be used for Shin Hanul NPP units 3&4, the construction of which will start in 2024. In the draft, R&D and demonstration of the key nuclear power technologies including small modular reactors (SMRs) are classified as economic activities contributing to carbon neutrality and environmental improvement along with renewable energy production and green car manufacturing. In addition, NPP construction and operation extension are classified as transitional economic activities for carbon neutrality along with LNG-based power generation. The K-taxonomy is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.
The inclusion of nuclear energy in taxonomy will "likely contribute to the rebound of Korea's nuclear industry by attracting investment in the nuclear sector, securing investors, and lowering funding rate," said a spokesperson from Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power. However, some Korean experts believe this may not be enough for overseas investors, as the Korean version of green taxonomy is more relaxed than that of the EU in terms of nuclear waste disposal and ATF adoption.
This gap between local and EU standards may undermine Korea's competitiveness in the global market, according to Energy Transition Korea (ETK), a non-profit forum of energy experts, corporations and organisations. "By setting a standard that does not align at all with that of the EU's green taxonomy, which applied a strict condition to the inclusion of nuclear energy, Korea's green taxonomy will be reduced only to a policy to support and justify the construction of nuclear reactors in Korea," said ETK.
"Korean green taxonomy should be able to help local companies adapt to the new global sustainability standard and boost their competitiveness in overseas market," the organisation added. "However, suggesting nuclear-related rules that fall notably behind the international standards may only undermine the credibility of 'K-taxonomy'." Dutch pension fund APG also said that Korea's nuclear business "cannot be considered eco-friendly if it fails to meet the EU standard”.
The lack of waste and used fuel disposal facilities haslong been a problem for Korea's nuclear sector. Temporary storage facilities for used fuel at Korea's NPPs are expected to reach their capacity from 2031, according to an Energy Ministry report released in December.
In July, Korea released a tentative R&D plan to invest KRW1,400 billion ($4.3bn) to build an interim storage facility for high-level nuclear waste by 2043 and a final disposal facility by 2060. However, the deadline for developing the final disposal facility is 10 years behind the EU standard.
Image: Cho Hyun-soo, Director of South Korea’s Ministry of Environment, presents the revised draft of its K-Taxonomy including nuclear power (courtesy of YONHAP)