South Korea and Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on comprehensive cooperation in nuclear research and development on the sidelines of the IAEA General Conference in Vienna on 17 September. They agreed to collaborate on the commercialisation of Korea’s SMART small modular reactor and to work together to licence and construct the first SMART unit in Saudi Arabia.

The 330MWt SMART is a pressurised water reactor with integral steam generators and advanced safety features. It was developed by the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), and received standard design approval from the Korean regulator in mid-2012. KAERI had planned to build a demonstration plant to operate from 2017 but development was stalled by the absence of any orders for an initial reference unit. SMART is designed for electricity generation (up to 100MWe) as well as thermal applications, such as seawater desalination, with a 60-year design life and three-year refuelling cycle.

Under the MoU, Korea and Saudi Arabia will work together to refine the design of the SMART reactor. Korea will also assist in gaining Saudi design approval of the reactor, as well as cooperating in the construction and operation of a SMART reactor in Saudi Arabia. The partners will also promote the SMART design to other Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries considering the use of small reactors.

A separate agreement was also signed between Sout Korea’s Ministry of Science and Technology and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) to establish a joint nuclear energy research centre in Saudi Arabia by the end of this year. Both projects had been discussed earlier in the year at the bilateral nuclear commission meeting held in Riyadh in May.

South Korea and Saudi Arabia previously signed an MOU to jointly promote the SMART reactor in the global market in 2015. This followed an inter-governmental agreement the two countries signed in 2011 on the development and implementation of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In September 2015, contracts were signed between KA-CARE and KAERI to support their cooperation in developing SMART. Korea and Saudi Arabia have since invested $130 million to complete pre-construction design project for the reactor. South Korean companies Kepco Engineering & Construction and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power in December 2018 signed an MoU to jointly develop a project to construct a plant based on SMART in Saudi Arabia.