The Korea Herald


US hinders S. Korea’s nuclear plant export to Czech Republic

Ongoing litigation between Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, Westinghouse puts brake on Yoon's export plan

By Kan Hyeong-woo

Published : April 5, 2023 - 15:36

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The Shin-Hanul No. 1 and 2 nuclear reactors at Uljin, 330 kilometers southeast of Seoul, are seen in this undated file photo provided by North Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap) The Shin-Hanul No. 1 and 2 nuclear reactors at Uljin, 330 kilometers southeast of Seoul, are seen in this undated file photo provided by North Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap)

The US government has turned down Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power’s report on bidding for a nuclear power plant project in the Czech Republic, raising concerns that the Korean export plans of reactors may fall short due to ongoing litigation with Westinghouse Electric Co.

The documents, which were submitted to the US District Court in Washington, showed Wednesday that KHNP submitted the relevant paperwork to the Department of Energy in December in compliance with the US Code of Federal Regulations that requires approval by the DOE or a prior report to the DOE when trying to transfer certain nuclear power technologies.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, companies planning to export nuclear power plants to the Czech Republic only need to report the activity within 30 days of the beginning of related operations. Following the necessary steps, KHNP said it should have been given the right to export its nuclear power plants to the Czech Republic.

However, the DOE said in a letter to KHNP in January that the report to the DOE must be submitted by "US Persons." In this case, "US Persons" refers to Westinghouse, which filed a lawsuit with a US federal court against KHNP and Kepco.

The US company claimed that the Korean companies infringed on the US firm’s nuclear reactor design and technology in October to stop them from selling reactors to Poland. In specifics, Westinghouse said Korea’s APR1400 reactors copied the System 80 reactor designed by Combustion Engineering, which was acquired by Westinghouse in 2000. Poland is evaluating offers from Westinghouse, KHNP and France’s EDF for the establishment of the first commercial nuclear power plant in the country.

Westinghouse asserts that the Korean companies’ nuclear reactor technologies are their own technologies, so they need to obtain the approval of the US government when exporting them to a third country. The US energy company is also asking the court to block KHNP’s potential deal with Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, the Korean side claims that the earlier stages of developing reactors were supported by Westinghouse, but the current models pushing for export deals have been developed with its technologies, so it should not be curbed by US restrictions. KHNP says the company has been able to come up with its original reactor technology over the past 30 years and now owns the intellectual property rights to its nuclear power plant technology.

“We have decided that the best course of action is to accommodate DOE’s response and its request that KHNP works with (Westinghouse) in order to prevent further complication of the issues pending in the case between Westinghouse and KHNP,” said KHNP in a letter to Westinghouse.

“Accordingly, we expect that Westinghouse will take actions as it deems necessary to file a report with DOE regarding submission of KHNP’s bid,” it added.

KHNP issued a statement later in the day that the US government was not blocking the nuclear export to the Czech Republic, explaining that the letter from the DOE was a response to instruct the procedures.

"Regarding the Czech Republic's nuclear power plant project, KHNP submitted its bid in November and the bidding process of the open competition is ongoing," it said.

The Yoon Suk Yeol administration has picked nuclear power plants as a core pillar of exports, with a goal to sell 10 reactor units overseas by 2030.