South Korea looks to decommissioning

24 April 2019

The South Korean government on 17 April unveiled a blueprint to build up the nuclear decommissioning industry, with the aim of becoming one of the top five global players in the field by the mid-2030s. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said South Korea hopes to account for 10% of the world's nuclear decommissioning market by taking advantage of its nuclear phase-out plan to gain valuable know-how and technology. It said the decommissioning industry can become a new growth engine for the energy industry.

Under the phase-out plan, South Korea will reduce the number of commercial nuclear reactors to 14 units by 2038 from the current 24. Instead, it will increase the share of renewable energy in its power portfolio to 20% by 2030 from the current 7%. The ministry said the imminent decommissioning of unit 1 at the Kori NPP will help South Korea acquire the technology needed to further develop the industry. Kori 1 was officially retired in June 2017, after 40 years of commercial operations. "As the number of closures of ageing nuclear plants increases after the mid-2020s, we need to consider the dismantling of Kori 1 as an opportunity to build technological capabilities and create a new industrial ecosystem with the goal of making inroads into overseas markets," the ministry said.

Under the blueprint, the ministry will set up research centres in the southeastern region to oversee the dismantling of nuclear reactors in the second half of 2021.

South Korea’s first research institute specialising in dismantling nuclear reactors will be built by the second half of 2021. A memorandum of understanding relating the institute was signed on 15 April between Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), and the local governments of Busan, Ulsan and North Gyeongsang Province. The institute will be composed of two research facilities: one in Gori, South Gyeongsang Province to be tasked with studies on dismantling light-water reactors and the other in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province charged with research on dismantling heavy-water reactors. 

The ministry said it will roll out major investment projects linked to the private sector before 2022 and take steps to capitalise on the potential boom in the decommissioning industry going forward. Investment will focus on finding ways to safely handle wastes and developing core equipment needed for the process. The government plans to re-educate existing nuclear energy experts in line with the changing demand from the market and help related companies financially transition toward the decommissioning industry by allocating KRW50 billion ($43.9 million). By proving its capabilities through the Kori 1 project, South Korea plans to partner with other advanced countries in decommissioning programmes in other nations by the late 2020s and eventually win its own independent bids by the late 2030s.

The ministry also plans to bolster related systems for the safe and transparent decommissioning of nuclear plants. "Through decommissioning projects, the government  plans to create business opportunities for companies in the nuclear energy industry and seek to revitalise economies of regions surrounding nuclear plants," Industry Minister Sung Yun-mo said. South Korea’s market for the decommissioning industry is estimated at KRW22,500bn, the ministry said, with growth expected to start in the late 2020s. It added that the global market for the industry is estimated at KRW549,000bn, it added. The central and regional governments estimates the cost of dismantling one reactor at KRW1,000bn.

Meanwhile, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power has started up its new Shin Kori 4 reactor and plans to connect it to the electricity grid at the end of April. It is the second APR-1400 design unit to start up of a planned global fleet of at least 10.

Construction of two further APR1400 pressurised water reactors at Shin Kori - units 5 and 6 - began in April 2017 and September 2018 respectively. Unit 5 is scheduled to begin commercial operation in March 2022, with unit 6 following one year later. Two further APR-1400 units are under construction in South Korea as units 1 and 2 of the Shin Hanul site. A further four APR-1400s are under construction at Barakah in the United Arab Emirates, while KHNP and Kepco are hopeful of further orders in other countries. However, the nuclear phase-out policy is expected to negatively impact Korea’s reactor-export prospects.

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