Opportunities seen in reactor decommissioning

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Opportunities seen in reactor decommissioning

The government laid out plans to strengthen the nuclear decommissioning industry in hopes that Korea will rank in the top five in the business globally by 2035.

It has labeled nuclear decommissioning as one of the country’s future growth engines.

“By 2035, we will become one of the world’s top five countries in dismantling nuclear power plants, with a 10 percent share in the global market,” Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said during the government economic meeting on Wednesday.

“We will enhance research and development for the purpose of commercializing and upgrading the technologies by decommissioning the Kori 1 and Wolseong 1 reactors early,” the finance minister added.

The government estimates that, by 2030, Korea’s own nuclear decommissioning market will be worth around 22.5 trillion won ($19.8 billion), while the global market will total about 123 trillion won.

In Korea, 30 reactors are to be decommissioned.

Considering that there are 453 nuclear reactors in the world, the Korean government estimates the market to be worth 550 trillion won in total. Currently, 170 reactors in the world have been permanently shut down, but only 21 have been completely dismantled, eight of which are located in the United States. The government added that 68 percent of the 453 reactors currently operating are more than 30 years old.

According to a joint statement released by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, government plans include creating a cluster of small- and medium-sized enterprises specializing in nuclear decommissioning in the southeast region of the peninsula. It may establish an energy convergence industrial complex in Ulsan and a radiology cluster in Busan. The government is also aiming to add 1,300 field specialists to the market by 2022.

As one of its first steps, the government in the second half of this year will be setting up a 50 billion won energy innovation growth fund.

On Monday, the government signed a contract with the Gyeongsang government to form the country’s first research labs specializing in the dismantling of nuclear power plants. Under the contract, the government will be creating one lab between Ulsan and Busan dedicated to the dismantling of light-water reactors. A lab focused on heavy-water reactors will be set up in Gyeongju. The labs will be test beds for technologies that will be required for the dismantling of reactors, including systems to measure contaminated nuclear waste.

“We will focus on creating an industrial ecosystem for dismantling nuclear reactors with an industrial complex in the center along with enhancing [government support] and fostering companies and experts specializing in this field,” Hong said.

He added that the government will also create a cooperative relationship with other major countries through joint research and the exchange of experts to help Korean companies expand overseas.

“We have established a three-stage strategy, whereby we will start off winning small orders in advanced economies and then expand to larger overseas projects through joint collaboration with other leading countries and finally win major orders on our own,” Hong said.

The Kori 1 reactor, which was permanently shut down in June 2017, will be the first to be decommissioned, in 2022.

Wolseong 1 will be the second to go, as it is likely to be shut down in June this year.

The Moon Jae-in administration has promised the phasing out of nuclear reactors and the introduction of more renewable energy, which is not only environmentally friendly but also safe.

“The permanent shutdown of Kori 1 is the start of Korea’s phase out of nuclear power … and a new opportunity for us,” Moon said in visiting the shutdown ceremony for Kori 1, Korea’s first commercialized nuclear reactor. It was completed in 1977. “It will be an opportunity where we will foster the nuclear decommissioning industry by building up know-how.”

Some have raised doubts whether nuclear decommissioning can be a sustainable growth engine, as the Moon government promises, especially when compared to the export and building of nuclear power plants.

It is estimated that the costs of decommissioning a reactor is 1 trillion won and takes up to 10 years. Building a reactor costs 5 to 10 trillion won, and the facility must be managed for as long as 60 years.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]
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