South Korea's Ministry of Science & ICT (MSIT) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with eight Korean companies to cooperate on the development of next-generation nuclear reactors. The companies included Century, Daewoo Engineering & Construction, Doosan Energy, HD Korea Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, Hyundai Engineering, Hyundai Engineering & Construction, POSCO E&C and Samsung Heavy Industries.

"Competition for next-generation nuclear reactors such as small modular reactors (SMRs) and non-light water reactors is intensifying worldwide as market demand for nuclear power generation diversifies," the ministry said. While the government has been promoting the securing of core technologies for the development of next-generation nuclear reactors, “active participation and investment from the private sector is also necessary" in order to “flexibly respond to rapidly changing market demand and successfully utilise the results of research and development so far”.

The MOU is expected to serve as a foundation for disseminating the results accumulated through government-led research and development to the private sector and promoting private-led technology development, demonstration and commercialisation.

The government and companies confirmed their commitment to developing next-generation nuclear reactors, including the Korean-designed SMART SMR, molten salt reactors, high-temperature gas reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors. They agreed to continue close cooperation for joint technology development, technology transfer, acquisition of licences, and human resource training. A public-private consultative body is also expected to be put in place to implement the MOU.

"In order to become a global leader in the nuclear energy market, which is rapidly being reorganised centring on next-generation nuclear reactors, the role of private companies that can respond quickly and flexibly is paramount," said First Vice Minister of Science & ICT Lee Chang-yoon. "Based on the public-private cooperation MOU, we will spare no effort in providing the necessary support for our companies to develop into top-tier next-generation nuclear reactor companies, such as transferring technology owned by government-funded research institutes, supporting licensing, and establishing a research association.”

In February, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol 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 affirmed his commitment in July 2022 to reverse the nuclear phase-out policy of his predecessor, President Moon Jae-in. 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.

Image: Commemorative photo of the ‘Next-generation nuclear reactor development public-private cooperation MOU signing ceremony’ (courtesy of MSIT)