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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 3)

All News 06:59 November 03, 2022

Hope for reactor exports

New strategy needed to revive nuclear power industry

Seoul and Warsaw signed a letter of intent (LOI) Monday for the construction of Poland's second nuclear power station. State-run Korea Hydro Nuclear Power (KHNP) signed the LOI with ZE PAK, Poland's largest solar power plant and Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), a state-owned power utility. They will assess the feasibility of building the nuclear plant in Patnow, central Poland, based on KHNP's APR1400 technology, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a joint statement with the Polish Ministry of State Assets.

If a final deal is signed, it will be "an achievement supported by the Korean government's firm determination and policy to export nuclear plants," said Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Lee Chang-yang. Since he took office in May, President Yoon Suk-yeol vowed to rejuvenate Korea's nuclear power industry, which has been struggling due to a nuclear phase-out policy pursued by the previous Moon Jae-in administration. The Yoon government has been stepping up nuclear-friendly policies with a goal of exporting 10 nuclear reactors by 2030.

"We welcome the information ZE PAK and PGE have entered into talks with KHNP, which will further strengthen relations between Poland and South Korea," Polish State Assets Minister Jacek Sasin said in a statement. KHNP said they will map out detailed plans by the end of this year regarding financing, technical studies and environmental impact assessment.

The deal, if signed, will mark the first nuclear reactor export contract in 13 years for Korea. The last order was the construction of a nuclear power plant in Barakah, the United Arab Emirates, in 2009. The 20 trillion won ($14.1 billion) project involves the construction of four nuclear reactors, paving the way for Seoul to advance into the European nuclear power market. The Korean-type power plant boasts price competitiveness in the global market paired with Korea's prowess in construction and operation.

Despite such a positive development, it is still too early to pop the champagne. KHNP needs to come up with well-conceived tactics for future negotiations with the Polish counterparts. It also needs to pay attention to a lawsuit filed by Westinghouse Electric Company of the United States to undercut KHNP's exports of power plants, claiming the APR1400 adopts its own design.

Yet, South Korea is entitled to use the APR1400 technology since it agreed with Westinghouse for technology transfer and usage in 1985 and in 1997, respectively. The U.S. firm filed a similar suit in 2009 when KHNP attempted to export a plant to the UAE, but to no avail.

Some assert the company's move is designed to raise its value ahead of its sell-off. The issue should be tackled properly for Seoul to expand its exports of nuclear plants to potential markets such as the Czech Republic, Belarus, and Taiwan. The Yoon government should also hold talks with the Biden administration over how to abide by the "reactor alliance" as the two leaders agreed during a summit in May. They should also draw up detailed plans to strengthen cooperation in the nuclear power industry.


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