Ministry backs nuclear exports

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Ministry backs nuclear exports

Korea’s trade minister on Tuesday vowed strong government support for nuclear reactor exports, even as the administration here is rolling back the country’s nuclear power plants.

Minister Paik Un-gyu presided over a nuclear reactor export strategy session with 17 state-run institutions and private companies involved in nuclear power plant construction overseas, including Hyundai Engineering and Construction and the Korea Electric Power Corporation.

During the session in Seoul, the minister made the point that the government’s support for nuclear reactor exports should be seen from a “different perspective” than its domestic push for renewable and green energy sources.

“As the government has consistently pointed out, its ‘energy transition project’ takes into account the possibility of earthquakes and high population density in the country,” the minister said, arguing that earthquakes could damage nuclear reactors and pose a danger to local communities.

The minister said it was the government’s “basic duty” to give full support to sell nuclear reactors overseas following a thorough examination of profitability and risks.

Paik’s remarks come as Korean companies are building the first of four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates as part of a $18.6 billion deal struck in 2009, the country’s first nuclear export deal. The government is hoping to win more construction bids abroad, while at home, President Moon Jae-in is working to reduce its reliance on nuclear reactors, citing safety risks as seen in 2011, when a tsunami in Japan wreaked havoc on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The minister noted that Korea’s successful bid for the UAE deal demonstrated the country’s capability to construct and manage nuclear reactors.

The government is eyeing Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic for bids in the coming months. The state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation, which owns Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, has also been in talks to acquire a stake in NuGen to construct a nuclear power plant in the United Kingdom.

The minister’s promise of government support came a day after modifications to Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power’s APR 1400 reactor gained approval for export to Europe. The third-generation reactor built to withstand earthquakes of up to magnitude 7 met the European Utility Requirements, paving the way for Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power to export the reactor not only to Europe but other countries that use the standard like Egypt and South Africa.

At home, plans for six new nuclear plants have been scrapped, while the fate of two nuclear reactors under construction - Shin Kori 5 and 6 - still hangs in the balance. The project has been suspended while a commission decides whether construction should continue.

President Moon vowed during his campaign to pull the plug on Shin Kori 5 and 6, but the fact that the plants were nearly 30 percent complete when his administration suspended the project caused a backlash.

Regardless of the decision on Shin Kori 5 and 6, two new reactors are already more than 90 percent complete, a by-product of previous administrations, and could be put to use for up to 60 years.

The Shin Hanul 1 is scheduled to begin operation next year and the Shin Hanul 2 in 2019.

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