South Korea's nuclear power independence

28 May 2008

With the completion of a man-machine interface system, South Korea is now able to manufacture nuclear power plants fully independently. Firms from the country could shortly begin to take part in the global reactor market.


South Korea started its nuclear power program in the 1970s by licensing pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology from US-based Westinghouse. Since then, as its industrial base has grown, domestic researchers and firms have updated the System 80 PWR design originally imported and developed South Korean versions of all major components. Separately, South Korea has imported Canadian-designed Candu pressurized heavy water reactors and is developing a unique strategy to re-use PWR fuel in these.


Under a licensee relationship with Westinghouse, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power was able to develop variants of System 80 for its own requirements. KHNP went on to develop the Korean Standard Nuclear Plant (KNSP), the OPR-1000 design and finally the APR-1400. Further refinements are under discussion.


In 2001, a national project to become self-sufficient in nuclear power technology was launched involving Doosan Heavy Industries, KHNP, the Power Research Institute and Korea Electric Power Company's nuclear fuel research department. This reached a milestone with the readiness of the last major component, a man-machine interface for nuclear instrumentation and control, which Doosan marked on 22 May with a ceremony involving over 100 dignitories. The system will be used in KHNP's forthcoming APR-1400 design reactors, two of which are beginning construction at Shin-Kori.


Currently, only a small number of large firms have the technical knowledge and project management experience to export nuclear power plants. Chief among them are Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL), Areva, AtomStroyExport, GE-Hitachi, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba and its subsidiary Westinghouse.


The change in status should enable Doosan in consortium with KHNP and other Korean or foreign firms to market a successor to the APR-1400 in collaboration with Westinghouse. Korean industry has already been linked to future reactor projects in Indonesia.


In an separate development, Doosan has signed a memorandum of understanding with China National Nuclear Company to bid jointly on nuclear power projects. Doosan is already contracted to provide large components such as steam generators for Chinese nuclear power plants and the firms expect to work together on more Chinese projects. In a statement, the countries mentioned southwest Asia and Africa. China is involved in Pakistan's nuclear power program and also interested in supporting a new program in Bangladesh.