The curse of a nuclear phase-out?The globalization of Korea’s proprietary nuclear reactor technology has hit a snag. State utility Korea Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) is no longer Toshiba’s preferred candidate to be a joint partner in a nuclear power plant project in Moorside, England.
Kepco was informed by Toshiba that the Japanese company could look to other options, although Kepco is free to compete in the bid. The Korean utility company was chosen in December last year as a preferred bidder to partner in the NuGen joint venture responsible for the construction of a new nuclear complex in the U.K. to provide around 7 percent of the power across the country — where coal and nuclear-fueled reactors are near the end of their life spans — at a cost of ＄15 billion to ＄20 billion.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy claims that Kepco and Toshiba have differed in the methodology of operating the reactors and contract terms.
But the policy by President Moon Jae-in to wean the country off nuclear reactors may also have influenced Toshiba’s decision. The Guardian reported that the change in the government and management of Kepco have raised uncertainties.
The thought of pitching a technology that the host country is trying to phase out at home was wishful to start with. A reactor must run for at least 30 years. Engineers, technology and equipment must be ready for maintenance and repair. There cannot be engineers, experts and parts suppliers in Korea if reactors are no longer being built.
No reactors are planned after the Shin Gori 5 and 6 units are completed by 2021. Experts in Korea would be snatched up by China and elsewhere by then. The supply chain at home would be wrecked.
There is still hope left for the Moorside project. The government said it will work harder in the next stage of negotiations. Before that, it must review its reactor phase-out policy. It should put a policy that can shape the future of the country’s power supply to a public debate or even a vote. The collapse of Korea’s reactor technology and industry, hard-built over the span of a half century, would be a terrible loss for the country.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 2, Page 30