South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has pledged to spend more than KRW4,000bn ($3bn) on nuclear energy research and development projects during his five-year term, which ends in 2027. This affirms his commitment in July 2022 to reverse the nuclear phase-out policy of his predecessor. He set a goal of planning nuclear power projects that would earn the domestic nuclear energy industry a total of KRW3,300bn and agreed to extend KRW1,000bn in special loans for wider nuclear industry support.

"This year will mark the first year of the nuclear energy industry's fresh leap forward," Yoon said during the 14th government-public debate on the nuclear power industry held in Changwon at the office of the South Gyeongsang Province. Changwon is a key industrial hub for Korea’s nuclear sector and is also home to Doosan Enerbility, the country’s major nuclear reactor developer.

Yoon added that his administration will introduce a special law to boost the Korea’s nuclear energy industry, in part to support advanced technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs). Before the end of 2024, the government will also draw up a long-term nuclear energy blueprint, emphasising the key role of the nuclear industry in achieving net zero by 2050.

Tax benefits will be offered for nuclear energy-related facility investment and research projects through amended legislation. "Large-scale power generation to produce quality electricity is needed to nurture high-tech industry," Yoon said. "Without nuclear power, no cutting-edge technology will be possible."

Further measures are planned to extend the operating life of 10 nuclear power reactors by 10 years. Unit 2 at the Kori NPP in Busan was shut down in April 2023. Two reactors – Kori 1 and Wolsung 1 – were shut down as part of the previous Moon administration’s nuclear phase-out policy. Nine more are due to cease operation before 2029. These 10 reactors represent around a third of the total. Construction of two more nuclear reactors — Shin Hanul 3 and 4 — will no longer be suspended.

Yoon also spoke about his success in reviving the domestic nuclear energy industry in the wake of the phase-out. He noted that the industry had won a total of KRW4,000bn in tenders since May 2022, six time more than during the former Moon administration. These include a KRW3,000bn commercial nuclear project at El-Daaba in Egypt and a KRW260bn tritium removal facility project in Romania.

During the policy debate, Yoon said the nuclear phase-out policy was "ideological and unscientific” and “was being implemented recklessly” to the detriment of the local nuclear energy industry. Also at the debate, Industry Minister Ahn Duk-geun said South Korea is seeking a to win bids for overseas nuclear reactor construction projects in the Czech Republic and Poland.

South Korea has 25 nuclear power reactors with a total capacity of 24.7 GWe at the end of 2023. According to the state-run utility Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, in 2022, these plants generated nearly 30% of all electricity, up from 23% in 2018.

Image: South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol