The Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) has released a report recommending that South Korea and the US should strengthen cooperation in the nuclear power export market, which is currently dominated by Russia and China. This should include building a supply chain together.
FKI’s “Korea-US Nuclear Power Civilian Cooperation Plan” was written by Park Sang-gil, an expert at law firm Gwangjang. It notes that a total of 34 export NPPs were under construction in 13 countries in 2022. Of these, 23 (67.6%) were ordered from Russia. China won orders for four plants, accounting for 11.7% of the total.
The report said that, after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, leading NPP exporters such as South Korea, Japan, and Germany adopted nuclear phase-out policies, allowing Russia and China to become new powerhouses in the global nuclear power plant export market.
The US sees this as a serious security threat and is preparing a strategy to restore competitiveness in the nuclear power industry by proposing related legislation, according to the report . In particular, small modular reactors (SMRs) are seen as the key to restoring competitiveness in the nuclear power industry. In 2022, the US launched its FIRST programme to support the initial foundation for the introduction of SMRs in countries seeking to build new NPPs. The Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) programme is led by the US Department of State
The report noted that South Korea should consider developing a programme based on its competitiveness in NPP construction and operation as a complement to the FIRST programme. The South Korean government formalised its support for FIRST at the US-South Korea summit in May 2022. The following October, Japan developed its Winning an Edge Through Cooperation in Advanced Nuclear (WECAN) programme as part of FIRST and launched a feasibility study on the introduction of SMRs in Ghana jointly with the US.
The report stresses the need to secure a stable supply of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) used as a fuel for SMRs. South Korea is completely dependent on Russian company Tenex for HALEU. South Korea should therefore participate in the construction of HALEU enrichment facilities in the US through equity investment or engineering, procurement & construction (EPC) and also build a nuclear supply chain with the US, the report said.
"The recent US-Korea summit has opened the door for cooperation,” said said head of FKI's economic & industrial division, Chu Kwang-ho. “As the US aims to reclaim its position as the next nuclear superpower by focusing on Small Modular Reactors, it's crucial that Korea develop an action plan that takes advantage of the alliance.”
The report said: "The US is proposing a number of bills to fortify the competitiveness of its nuclear energy sector, in a legislative move to help elevate the private sector-led industry as a global leader. A Korea-US energy alliance will be able to reinvigorate local players still reeling from the anti-nuclear drive fanned after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan."
It remains to be seen whether the increased Korean-US co-operation in the nuclear market outlined by FKI will help to resolve the on-going legal dispute between US-based Westinghouse and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP).
Korea recently called on the USA to co-operate in resolving the legal dispute in which Westinghouse is seeking to block Korea’s planned reactor exports to the Czech Republic and other nations. Industry Ministry Lee Chang-yang made the request during a meeting with his US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in Washington on the sidelines of President Yoon Suk Yeol's state visit, according to Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy.
In October 2022, Westinghouse filed a lawsuit against KHNP after Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE) and listed Polish private power plant operator ZE PAK announced plans to sign a letter of intent with KHNP on building an APR1400 reactor at a former coal plant. This followed a tender to supply reactors for Poland’s nuclear power programme, which had been awarded to Westinghouse, despite press reports that KHNP’s offer had been expected to win.
The Westinghouse lawsuit alleges intellectual property infringement by KHNP insisting that US government consent is needed before KHNP can export an APR1400 nuclear reactor as it is created based on Westinghouse technology. KHNP contests this saying it had developed its own independent technology during the past 30 years.