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The nuclear export race

[Nuclear energy: Risk or opportunity? First in a three-part series]As more countries turn to the atom, Korea hopes to cash in

June 05,2009
Employees at Doosan Heavy Industries load a nuclear reactor to be used in Qinshan, China. Provided by Doosan
The United Arab Emirates has released their short list of candidates to build the country’s first nuclear power plant. The teams include companies from the United States, France, Japan - and Korea.

Three consortiums made it to the final decision-making stage, including a French team led by Areva, a Japan-U.S. team led by Hitachi and GE, and a Korean team led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation.

The UAE plans to build 12 to 16 nuclear power reactors worth between $40 billion and $60 billion in total over the course of 20 years.

According to AFP, French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited the UAE on May 25 to 26, accompanied by executives from Areva, a leading nuclear reactor producer in France, in what reportedly was an attempt to help the company win the bid. U.S. President Barack Obama approved a U.S.-UAE nuclear cooperation deal on May 20, a move also interpreted as meant to help American companies make inroads into the nuclear power market in the UAE.

Korean government officials led by Prime Minister Han Seung-soo are also putting their heads together to work out ways to help the Korean team win what would be this country’s first nuclear reactor export deal.

Many energy experts say a nuclear renaissance is coming. In past decades, nuclear power was shunned due to potential disasters and environmental impact. But as technology develops further and oil costs remain high, countries are scrambling to go nuclear. Rising awareness about global warming has also played a part, as modern nuclear reactors emit relatively little carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Even Italy and Sweden, which once banned nuclear reactor development, now say they will build more.

The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates around 300 new nuclear reactors worth around $560 billion will be built by 2030. And the Korean government says that if Korea wins just 10 percent of the bids for those 300 reactors, it could become a major export industry like semiconductors, shipbuilding and automobiles, already big business here.

And the government is confident Korea can compete when it comes to nuclear technology.

“Technologically, Korea is ready to export nuclear power plants,” said Jang Mun-hee, senior researcher at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute. “But the size of each project is so huge that winning a bid should be backed by the government, politically and diplomatically.”


By Yum Tae-jung, Shim Jae-woo [joe@joongang.co.kr]



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