SEOUL — South Korea’s top nuclear regulator sees an important role in sharing their safety knowledge along with the plants it is exporting as Europe and Asia revisit nuclear power to meet carbon emissions goals and ensure energy security.
Since President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May, South Korea – with 24 operating reactors and decades of nuclear power experience since 1978 – has heightened efforts to export nuclear plants.
Since August, the country has won contracts to potentially build up to eight nuclear power plants in Egypt and Poland. With those technology exports comes a responsibility to help the countries develop the regulatory and safety rules to operate them, Nuclear Safety and Security Commission Chairperson Yoo Guk-hee told Reuters.
“The highest priority of all nuclear facilities is safety, so regulatory techniques become very important,” Yoo said in an interview on Tuesday.
In August, South Korea was awarded a 3 trillion won ($2.12 billion) order to help build four nuclear plants in Egypt.
And on Monday, Seoul and Warsaw signed agreements to assess the viability of building four 1,400-megawatt nuclear reactors in Patnow, Poland, using South Korean technology.
They are the first major export agreements South Korea’s nuclear industry has won since a $40 billion order from United Arab Emirates in 2009 to build four nuclear plants.
Since the 2009 deal, the regulator has been working with UAE authorities to pass on regulatory techniques.
As an example of how South Korea can help pass along regulatory knowledge, Yoo described how the regulator scientifically finds the proper flow rate for pumps that operate in the plant, then the plant operator designs the pump to that specification, which the regulator then checks for proper function.
“Such regulatory techniques are forwarded to the other country, as well as forms and processes. We also dispatch our experts to help support on the ground,” Yoo said.
For a new form of nuclear power technology called small modular reactors (SMR), Yoo said nuclear regulators are increasingly drawing up in advance the rules SMR developers need to follow, as around 20 countries are developing about 70 to 80 different forms of SMR.
South Korea has also outlined plans to increase nuclear power’s share in its energy mix to 33% by 2030 from 27% currently, planning an additional six nuclear plants by 2036 on top of the current 24, in a country the size of the US state of Indiana.
For hundreds of Korean residents living near the reactors that have expressed safety concerns, Yoo said the transparent sharing of scientific safety verification as well as frequent communication is necessary to “dispel unnecessary fears.”
“Trust is hard to gain, and hard to regain when lost… Efforts such as giving full explanations until residents understand, giving a site tour, and if needed, letting them see the data in real time are needed.”
($1 = 1,416.5900 won) (Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)