Can Korea continue nuke reactor exports after Barakah?

21-Feb-2020 Intellasia | KoreaTimes | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Korea’s first nuclear reactor export to the United Arab Emirates is now an official success after the Middle Eastern country gave the first reactor at the Barakah Nuclear Plant ? built by Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) ? the go ahead. However, questions remain as to whether Korea can continue exporting its nuclear reactors and related technologies, as the current government is attempting to phase out nuclear power from the country’s main energy resources.

The UAE Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation issued an operating license for unit 1 of the plant, and following this, fuel will start to be loaded and full commercial operation commenced within several months.

In December 2009, the state-run KEPCO won the project to build four APR-1400 reactors in Barakah and broke ground in July 2012. Initially, unit 1 was expected to begin commercial operations in 2017, but the UAE government postponed it several times for extensive reviews and inspections.

Industry officials said the Barakah operation could be proof of the technological prowess of KEPCO, but will not likely be a springboard for Korea to gain momentum in exporting nuclear reactors, given the political drive to phase out nuclear power here.

Since winning the Barakah project in 2009, KEPCO and its subsidiary Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) have been vying to win additional orders in overseas nuclear projects, but are yet to see any noticeable outcome.

According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, there are approximately 20 nuclear plants in the UK, Poland, Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Bangladesh which are yet to finalise a bidder on reactor provision, meaning they are up for grabs for nuclear power firms across the world.

After KEPCO lost its preferred bidder status in the UK’s Moorside nuclear project in July 2018, KEPCO tapped into projects in the Czech Republic, Poland and Saudi Arabia, but these have a long way to go.

According to KHNP, the Czech government seeks to build a 1,200 megawatt nuclear plant at Dukovany and plans to select a final bidder in 2022. Initially, the preferred bidder was expected to be announced last year, with President Moon Jae-in asking Czech prime minister Andrej Babis for Korea’s participation in the bidding process in November 2018.

Also, KHNP is vying for a project to construct six nuclear reactors in Poland by 2043. The Polish government plans to select a site this year and a bidder by 2021.

Since the two projects are at a critical juncture weighing between different bidders, industry officials said the state-wide support and political influence is also working. However, Korea appears to be falling short of its rivals, as its sales pitch contradicts the government’s policy to phase out nuclear energy in the country.

“Despite KEPCO and other nuclear related businesses’ bid to win reactor-related orders, the response appears to have been lukewarm,” an industry official said. “For ordering countries, it is natural to have doubts on long-term maintenance and securing operating personnel when they give projects to Korean firms, because the country is no longer pursuing nuclear energy on its home soil.”

Along with state-run firms, private companies are also scaling down their workforces as the “nuclear business” declines here.

Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, whose main business is manufacturing equipment for nuclear power plants, said Tuesday it will launch a voluntary retirement programme for employees older than 45, citing its deteriorating bottom line.

“The global power generation market has been facing headwinds for the past several years and so has Doosan Heavy due to the uncertainties in the domestic market,” the company said in a statement. “We have been practicing a package of self-recovery efforts for new businesses including gas turbines, wind power and hydrogen energy, but we cannot avoid workforce restructuring.”

“It seems that the government thinks it can fool importing nations so easily,” said Lee Duck-hwan, a professor at Sogang University. “Promoting nuclear power plants to other countries while scaling them down at home citing safety concerns is an unethical approach.”

“Korea is celebrating the operation of the Barakah Power Plant, but it remains uncertain who will operate the plant, because Korea is losing its nuclear-related workforce,” he added. “As seen in Doosan Heavy’s job cuts, the Korean nuclear industry is on the verge of collapse and the outlook for nuclear reactor exports is very negative.”


Category: Korea

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