South Korea's nuclear technology advancement

29 March 2010

Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (Kaeri) and Korean steelmaker Posco have signed an agreement to jointly study technologies for advanced nuclear reactor systems. Meanwhile, Korean researchers have developed software to ensure optimal operation of power reactors.


Kaeri and Posco signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on 26 March to conduct joint research and development on technologies for System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactors (Smart) and Very High Temperature Reactors (VHTRs). The agreement was signed by Kaeri president Yang Myhung-seung and Posco CEO Chung Joon-yang.


South Korea's Smart is a 330 MWt pressurised water reactor with integral steam generators and advanced safety features. It has been designed by the Kaeri for generating electricity (up to 100 MWe) and/or thermal applications such as seawater desalination. The design life of the reactor is 60 years, with a three-year refuelling cycle. While the basic design is complete, the absence of any orders for an initial reference unit has stalled development. Kaeri is now intending to proceed to licensing the design by 2012.


Meanwhile, Kaeri has also submitted a Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) design to the Generation IV International Forum with a view to hydrogen production from it. This is envisaged as comprising 300 MWt modules operating at 950˚C and each producing 30,000 tonnes of hydrogen per year. Kaeri expects the engineering design of the reactor to be completed in 2014, construction to start in 2016 and operation in 2020.


Posco said that it will develop technologies to separate oxygen from iron ore by utilizing VHTR study results.


Software development


Meanwhile, South Korea researchers have reportedly developed nuclear power reactor software designed to predict the entire 18-month operational cycle of nuclear fuel. Staff from Kaeri, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) and other nuclear-related organizations have, after four years of work, completed the reactor core software, the Yonhap news agency reported.


The software is able to predict how the neutrons in the reactor core will react during the power generation process, the life cycle of the fuel rods inside the reactor and when they should be replaced. It can also determine the exact position where fuel rods should be placed when inserted into the reactor core.


An unnamed KHNP official told Yonhap, "(Developing) the software is used as a barometer of an atomic energy-producing country's technology level." 


Subject to approval from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the new system is to be used in the Shin Kori 3 and 4 APR-1400 reactors, under construction and due for commercial operation in 2013 and 2014, respectively.


According to Yonhap, "The successful development of the software is expected to speed up development of key nuclear reactor-related technologies, potentially making South Korea totally independent of foreign support by late 2012."


In late 2007, Kaeri announced the development of an indigenous reactor safety analysis system for pressurized light water reactors (PWRs). The Multi-Purpose Integrated Assessment Code for Severe Accidents (Midas) aims to eliminate fundamental design or operational flaws that could potentially cause serious nuclear accidents. It is based on the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Methods for Estimation of Leakages and Consequences of Releases (MELCOR) code, a fully integrated code that models the progression of severe accidents in PWRs that is used around the world to check for serious problems in design and operating systems.


In May 2008, Doosan Heavy Industries unveiled a man-machine interface for nuclear instrumentation and control. The system is also to be used in KHNP's forthcoming APR-1400 design reactors.


Export ambitions


South Korea started its nuclear power program in the 1970s by licensing 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 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. It has now reached the status of an exporter of indigenous nuclear power reactor technology, although certain confidential ties to Westinghouse remain.


In December 2009, a consortium of South Korean companies was awarded a contract worth some $20 billion to construct four APR-1400 reactors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by 2020.


South Korea aims to export 80 nuclear power reactors - worth some $400 billion - by 2030, according to the country's Ministry of Knowledge Economy. This would make South Korea the world's third largest reactor supplier with a 20% share of the global market. In addition to exporting reactors, South Korea also plans to enter the $78 billion market for the operation, maintenance and repair of reactors.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News