Running to the finish line

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Running to the finish line

On Monday, state-run Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) signed a letter of intent to build Poland’s new nuclear power plant with Polish private energy company Zepak and public company PGE. The letter places the KHNP’s nuclear reactor technology in a favorable position to win the order from the Polish government which aims to build two nuclear plants with three reactors each for power security.

Poland has placed multibillion-dollar weapons orders with Korean companies in August and September. If Korea succeeds in finalizing the contract, it will be the first reactor export in 13 years after its first reactor project in the United Arab Emirates in 2009. It also would be the first meaningful reactor export to a member of the European Union.

Despite the much-hyped U.A.E. feat, Korean reactor supremacy was impaired under the policy of the former Moon Jae-in administration which pushed for a phase-out from nuclear power. The industry was entirely ruined over the last five years due to the cancellation of the construction of new nuclear plants. With nuclear technology being exited from the home country, Korea’s overseas sales were questioned. Chinese and Russian companies quickly widened their influence in the global reactor market.

Upon inauguration in May, President Yoon Suk-yeol vowed to revive the nuclear industry by procuring 10 new reactors by 2030. He bluntly criticized that the phasing out of nuclear power had been stupid. The new government expedited orders to restore the reactor ecosystem. In August, KHNP was consigned with the construction of turbine buildings for Egypt’s first nuclear power plant under the responsibility of Russian company Rosatom in a $2.25 billion deal.

Whether Korea can finalize a full reactor deal in Poland could hinge on Westinghouse. The U.S. reactor design house was chosen by Poland for its first government-led reactor last week. KHNP is pursuing a separate reactor project led by private companies. But Westinghouse has sued KHNP in a U.S. federal court for infringing on its original nuclear reactor design technology and using it for exports.

The nuclear power generation is an area known for Korean supremacy, along with memory chips. Nuclear power is essential for energy security and green growth. Korea must settle differences with America to ensure reliability in reactor exports. President Yoon and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden vowed to cooperate for a joint overseas foray in reactors in their summit talks in May. The U.S. and European Union are worried about Chinese and Russian reactor proliferation. It would be a win-win strategy if Korea and the U.S. cooperate in global reactor expansion. The Poland deal should come to fruition to help revive the struggling local industry.
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