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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 18)

Editorials from Korean dailies 06:57 August 18, 2022

Reviving nuclear industry
SK teams up with TerraPower for lucrative SMR market

SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won met with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in Seoul on Tuesday and agreed to expand their relationship and strengthen cooperation. Their meeting came a day after SK Group announced a plan to invest $250 million in TerraPower, a U.S. nuclear design company, founded by Gates, to develop small modular reactors (SMRs).

SK's move comes as many companies seek to enter the nuclear power industry which had been devastated by the nuclear phase-out policy of the previous Moon Jae-in administration. Equipped with state-of-the-art, sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR) technology, the U.S. firm plans to set up the first SFR factory in there in 2028.

The Yoon Suk-yeol administration has pledged to nurture the nuclear industry to make the nation take another leap forward as the world's No. 1 nuclear energy powerhouse. Prompted by the shift in policy, an increasing number enterprises have been rushing to enter the SMR market. For instance, GS Energy, Doosan Enerbility and Samsung C&T signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with NuScale Power, the world's largest SMR firm, for joint production and operation of SMRs.

SMR refers to a small-sized nuclear reactor with less than 300 megawatts of power generation, of which parts are manufactured in factories for onsite assembly. Compared to large-sized reactors, it can be built in a short period of time with less expenses. It is less vulnerable to radioactive leaks, and it can be installed anywhere, even remote mountainous areas.

The British National Atomic Energy Research Institute said SMRs will go into full-swing commercial use from 2030 and the market will continue to expand to 630 trillion won ($481 billion) by 2035. Thus domestic companies should maximize efforts to lead the lucrative market. Despite its nuclear phase-out policy, the Moon administration pushed for the development of SMRs.

Now the Yoon government and the industry should double down on exporting nuclear reactors, and strengthening the nuclear power ecosystem. Given this, it is encouraging the Korea Hydro Nuclear Power (KHNP) is about to sign a contract with Saudi Arabia to supply part of a massive nuclear power plant. More orders are expected from European countries such as the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Poland.

President Yoon said during a press conference Wednesday marking his 100th day in office that his government has managed to revive the nation's nuclear industry by relinquishing his predecessor's nuclear phase-out policy. Joint efforts should be made to expand exports of nuclear reactors, making the most of the nation's competitive advantage in nuclear power generation. The Yoon administration should also help businesses enter the SMR market. Further, it needs to pay more heed to the safety of nuclear power plants, while expanding into treatment of high-level radioactive waste (HLW).

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