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Korea intent on joining bid for Saudi nuclear reactors: ministry

The South Korean government on Thursday expressed its intention to join a bid to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, which is seeking to adopt its first such commercial reactors.

The country is reportedly reaching out to potential bidders in France, China, Russia, Japan and Korea.

Paik Un-gyu, Korea’s minister of trade, industry and energy, expressed the intent to bid in the tender to Adel bin Muhammad Fakeih, the Saudi Arabian minister of economy and planning, ahead of a Korean-Saudi Arabian business forum called “Vision 2030” held in Seoul on Thursday.

If Korea manages to clinch the deal, which is estimated to be worth at least $20 billion, Saudi Arabia will become the second Gulf nation with nuclear power generators built on Korean technology, following the United Arab Emirates. 

South Korean Energy Minister Paik Un-gyu (left) and Saudi Arabian Economy Minister Adel bin Muhammad Fakeih (fourth from left) pose at a Korean-Saudi Arabian business forum held in Seoul Thursday. (Yonhap)
South Korean Energy Minister Paik Un-gyu (left) and Saudi Arabian Economy Minister Adel bin Muhammad Fakeih (fourth from left) pose at a Korean-Saudi Arabian business forum held in Seoul Thursday. (Yonhap)
Paik said Korea’s nuclear power plant builders, including the state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation, are able to capitalize on their four decades of experience to build and operate nuclear power plants at home and abroad.

He also stressed that Korea is the only nation among potential bidders that has understanding of the atomic power plant business in the Middle East.

Paik told Fakeih that Korea is willing to cooperate with Saudi Arabia to set up nuclear power infrastructure by nurturing specialists and helping Saudi Arabia craft pertaining regulations. During the talks, Fakeih offered to share with Korea the schedule to launch its tender process and develop regulations, according to the ministry.

The move by the ministry came amid concerns the nation’s nuclear power phase-out policy might pose a hurdle to its aim to build reactors overseas.

The phase-out policy is one of President Moon Jae-in’s election pledges, leading to the state’s announcement Tuesday to decrease the number of such power reactors from the current 24 to 14 by 2038, following the decision to shut down Korea’s oldest nuclear plant in June.

The government had also suspended the construction of two reactors and put their fate in the hands of a state commission, whose survey of a 471-member citizens jury on Oct. 20 decided in favor of restarting the construction. 

Nuclear reactors Shin Kori 5 and Shin Kori 6 under construction. (Yonhap)
Nuclear reactors Shin Kori 5 and Shin Kori 6 under construction. (Yonhap)
Moon in June unveiled plans to scale up nonnuclear renewable energy power generation to 20 percent by 2030, from roughly 5 percent as of June. 

Saudi Arabia is reportedly expected to launch a nuclear power tender for two reactors with a combined electricity generating capacity of 2.8 gigawatts as early as October, but the announcement has yet to be made public by the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, the government agency in charge.

Last month, Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani, president of KACARE, said the country has worked with South Korean partners to build reactors that run in remote areas without links to power grids, in an annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency held in Vienna.

Saudi Arabia’s latest move to diversify energy supply is part of its renewable energy drive with a goal to build 17.6 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity by 2032, which stemmed from the nation’s reform program Vision 2030.

In 2009, Korea won a $40 billion deal with the UAE to establish firms to fund and operate four reactors there, which are now under construction. The consortium, which includes Kepco, aims to have its first nuclear reactor go online next year.

Korea has gained the upper edge against rivals both in regards to nuclear reactor technology and the history of business cooperation, local experts noted.

“(Korean electricity providers) have proved their capability to build and operate nuclear reactors on desert,” Joo Han-gyu, nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University, told The Korea Herald.

He added Korea is home to technologies to build system-integrated modular advanced reactors (SMART), a type of small modular reactors that allow less on-site construction and offer enhanced nuclear safety features. The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, developer of SMART, signed a memorandum of understanding with KACARE in 2015 to build two modular reactors.

By Son Ji-hyoung 
(consnow@heraldcorp.com)
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