South Korea has taken steps in line with the government's nuclear phase-out policy ‒ an aging reactor (Wolsong 1) will be closed and plans for four new reactors have been cancelled.1
President Moon Jae-in was one of seven candidates in the May 2017 presidential election who signed an agreement to phase out nuclear energy. In June 2017, at a ceremony to mark the permanent shutdown of the Kori 1 reactor, the President said plans for new power reactors will be cancelled and the operating periods of existing reactors will not be extended beyond their design life.2
Late last year, approval was granted to complete two partially-built reactors ‒ Shin Kori 5 and 6 ‒ but there won't be any construction starts while Moon Jae-in is in power.
South Korea has 24 power reactors (including Wolsong 1) and the government plans to reduce the number to 18 in 2031 and 14 in 20381,3, with a complete phase-out over subsequent decades.
Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) ‒ a subsidiary of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), the majority government-owned utility responsible for 93% of electricity generation in South Korea ‒ announced on June 15 that it will close Wolsong 1, its oldest reactor, before its 2022 licence expiry. Wolsong 1 is a 657-MW CANDU pressurised heavy water reactor which commenced operation in 1983. Its 30-year operational licence expired in 2012 but was extended for another 10 years to 2022.
KHNP cited "uncertain economic viability" and low operating performance as reasons for the early closure of Wolsong 1. KHNP CEO Chung Jae-hoon said: "According to the government's energy policy shift, we have reviewed the operational plans of the Wolsong reactors several times and concluded [that] keeping Wolsong unit 1 operating under strengthened safety regulations would not be economical."1
Four planned reactors cancelled
KHNP on June 15 also announced the cancellation of plans for four new reactors. Chung Jae-hoon said "the plans for building new reactors of Cheonji-1,2 and Daejin-1,2 would be terminated in order to eradicate uncertainties in the KHNP's management and restore smooth relations with local residents."4 Another two reactors that were in the planning stage ‒ Shin Hanul 3 and 4 ‒ were cancelled in the aftermath of Moon Jae-in's election victory.5,6
The Cheonji and Daejin reactors were to be a new 1500 MWe APR+ design ‒ the successor to the APR1400 design (of which one is operating in South Korea and four are under construction in the United Arab Emirates).1
KHNP had invested 90.4 billion won (US$81.1 million) into construction plans of Cheonji 1 and 2 in Yeongdeok, North Gyeongsang Province and 3.3 billion won (US$2.9 million) into Daejin 1 and 2 in Samcheok, Gangwon Province.7
With the prospects for new domestic reactors greatly diminished, South Korea's nuclear industry hopes to thrive in export markets. The government is actively supporting nuclear export efforts though there may be a limit to its largesse ‒ if, for example, the South Korean government is asked to stump up billions to finance overseas reactor projects.
In 2009, a KEPCO-led consortium won the contract to build four power reactors in the United Arab Emirates. In 2010, boosted by the UAE contract, South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy set a target of winning contracts to build 80 power reactors overseas by 2030, and in 2015 KEPCO had a target of winning overseas contracts for six reactors by 2020.6 But all those targets have come to absolutely nothing ‒ KEPCO and KHNP haven't won any reactor construction contracts since the 2009 UAE contract.
South Korea has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with at least 27 countries8 but those agreements aren't leading to reactor contracts. The downscaling of South Korea's domestic nuclear industry won't help KEPCO and KHNP win contracts. "If Korea stops building reactors domestically it will definitely hurt their export market," said Jessica Lovering from the pro-nuclear Breakthrough Institute last year.9
The four recently-cancelled domestic APR+ reactors were to address some of the APR1400 design flaws (such as limited aircraft crash protection and the lack of a core-catcher) that would make it difficult to win contracts in Europe and perhaps elsewhere.
On 2 July 2018, KEPCO was short-listed to bid for a two-reactor project in Saudi Arabia along with consortia based in the US, France, China and Russia. South Korea also hopes to build 'SMART' small modular reactors in Saudi Arabia but no other country ‒ including South Korea itself ‒ has built a SMART reactor.
KEPCO was selected as a preferred bidder in December 2017 for Toshiba's NuGen reactor project in Moorside, Britain. That may progress but there is a long way to go. The financial requirements would test the largesse of the South Korean government, and several years would be required to go through the UK reactor licensing process.
KHNP CEO Chung Jae-hoon said in June 2018 that every effort is being made to search for opportunities in "strategic markets," including Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and the Philippines. "We will knock on any door, seeking whatever benefits we can get. The Korean nuclear industry can survive as long as it finds ways to complement it business model," he said.10 However not all of those four countries will build new reactors; perhaps none of them will.
South Korea's nuclear cooperation agreement with South Africa was ruled to be illegal by the South African High Court last year. And South Africa's nuclear project is unlikely to be revived after the ousting of former President Jacob Zuma.
South Korea hoped to export reactors to Vietnam, but Vietnam cancelled its nuclear power program in 2016.
South Korea's attempts to get into the Indian nuclear market have come to nothing.8,11
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been slowly assessing South Korea's APR1400 reactor design but even if that review is completed and successful, there is no prospect of new reactors in the US for the foreseeable future.
1. World Nuclear Association, 15 June 2018, 'Early closure for Korea's oldest operating reactor', www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Early-closure-for-Koreas-oldest-operating-r...
2. Nikkei Asian Review, 19 June 2017, 'South Korea's President Moon says plans to exit nuclear power', http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Policy-Politics/South-Korea-s-Pr...
3. Heesu Lee and Stephen Stapczynski, 24 Oct 2018, 'South Korea Will Build Two of Them', www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-24/before-abandoning-nuke-reacto...
4. Nam Hyun-woo, 15 June 2018, 'Wolsong-1 nuclear reactor to shut down before end of lifespan', www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/tech/2018/06/325_250740.html
5. Mark Hibbs, 22 June 2017, 'Moon's Phase-Out: What does it imply?', www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1203385/moons-phase-out-what-does-it-imply/
6. World Nuclear Association, Dec 2017, 'Nuclear Power in South Korea', www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-o-s...
7. Yoon Ja-young, 21 June 2018, 'KHNP to get compensation for nuclear shutdown', www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/biz/2018/06/367_251075.html
8. Robert Einhorn, Fred F. McGoldrick, James L. Tyson, and Duyeon Kim, 16 Jan 2015, 'ROK-U.S. Civil Nuclear and Nonproliferation Collaboration in Third Countries', wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ROK-US-Civil-Nuclear-and-Nonproliferation-Collaboration-in-Third-Countries.pdf
9. Stephen Stapczynski, 16 May 2017, 'New South Korean President Seen Hindering Nuclear Ambitions', www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-05-15/new-south-korean-presiden...
10. Yonhap, 8 June 2018, 'S. Korean nuclear operator turns outward to foreign markets', www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20180608000465
11. Anirban Bhaumik, 12 Jan 2014, 'New Delhi wary of nuclear cooperation with Seoul', www.deccanherald.com/content/380183/delhi-wary-nuclear-cooperation-seoul...