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Exporting reactors

Sept 23,2017
Saudi Arabia is readying to launch a tendering process for its first nuclear reactors next month under a policy to build 17 reactors by 2032 to save fossil fuel resources. Korea is among the candidates invited to the explanation session for the $20 billion contract commission to construct the two nuclear power plants with combined generating capacity of 2.8 gigawatts.

Saudi Arabia has decided to add nuclear power after seeing its Gulf neighbor the United Arab Emirates seeking electricity through atomic energy with the help of Korea. Korea is building reactors in the UAE based on its third-generation design APR-1400, advanced pressurized water nuclear reactor. The same design builds the Shin Kori 5 and 6 reactors whose construction has been suspended at the order of President Moon Jae-in, who envisions a completely nuclear-free nation.

The nuclear phase-out plan has dealt a heavy blow to the reactor industry and its hard-won international recognition. Few would offer to buy reactor technology shunned by its own country. Moon maintains that the government will support the industry’s overseas campaign regardless of the phase-out plan at home. But the energy ministry sent a working-level official to the recent seminar hosted by the Saudi government explaining its tender. China sent a deputy prime ministerial level chief of commerce to meet the Saudi crown prince who is spearheading the Vision 2030 energy program.

It is not easy to win a multibillion-dollar reactor even with full state backing. South Korea was disappointed in procurements by Jordan in 2010 and Turkey in 2011. Beating bigger contenders from the U.S., Japan, France, China, and Russia is hard. Korea is vying to replace Toshiba in nuclear projects in Britain, but that may not be easy due to China’s courting.

We must not let go of the $265 billion reactor market that easily. The president must show his full support in the Saudi deal.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 22, Page 38