NRC Grants Key Approvals for S. Korea’s APR1400 Nuclear Reactor, Despite Widespread Construction Delays

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued key safety and design approvals for the Advanced Power Reactor 1400 (APR1400), a South Korean third-generation nuclear reactor design. 

The U.S. regulatory body on September 28 issued a final safety evaluation report and a standard design approval (SDA) for the APR1400, which is designed by South Korean state-owned companies Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP). 

The companies submitted a design certification application for the APR1400 in December 2014. Despite issuance of the safety evaluation report and SDA, the NRC has yet to complete its certification process, however. 

“Full certification, if granted by the Commission following the staff’s recommendation, is valid for 15 years and allows a utility to reference the design when applying for a Combined License to build and operate a nuclear power plant,” the NRC noted. Issuance of the SDA means that the NRC’s staff has completed a technical review of the APR1400 design, in accordance with standards for review, but it does not “constitute a commitment to issue a permit, design certification, or license in any way,” the NRC said. 

The APR1400 is a two-loop, evolutionary design, pressurized water reactor (PWR), which evolved from the OPR1000 Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant design and Combustion Engineering’s (now Westinghouse’s) System 80+ design. It was developed for use in South Korea.

According to KHNP, the evolution from the OPR1000 took just 10 years and 234.6 billion won ($193 million) to develop. The advanced design incorporates a number of modifications and improvements to meet the utility’s needs for “enhanced safety and economic goals and to address the new licensing issues such as mitigation of severe accidents.” 

KHNP also noted that the APR1400 has been developed to meet 43 basic design requirements, such as 4,000 MW-rated thermal power, a 60-year lifetime, and lower probabilities of core damage and accidental radiation release than the country’s OPR1000 plants.

Only one APR1400 is officially operational, though several are under construction. The world’s first APR1400 came online in January 2016 at Shin Kori 3 in South Korea, eight years after construction kicked off. That project was originally scheduled to be operational at the end of 2013, but it suffered years of delays posed by delivery delays and a crippling documentation scandal that required cabling replacements. Shin Kori 4, where construction began in August 2009, was scheduled to be online in September 2014, but isn’t yet commercially operational. The project was originally planned to be completed in November 2017, but in August 2017 that date was pushed to September 2018. 

KHNP, a KEPCO subsidiary that owns and operates South Korea’s 21 nuclear plants, did not immediately respond to POWER’s questions about the status of the project.

Construction at two more APR1400s began in July 2012 at Shin Hanul (Units 1 and 2), but they have also been plagued by delays. They were scheduled to come online between April 2018 and February 2019, but have been delayed to October 2019. KHNP in May 2017 announced it suspended design work for two other APR1400 units at Shin Hanul until South Korea’s government made a firm decision on the direction of its nuclear power policy. 

Meanwhile, the first of four APR1400 reactors under construction at the Barakah plant in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was completed this March, but commercial start-up has been delayed to between the end of 2019 and early 2020, Nawah Energy Company, the operator of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, said in May 2018. The delays are pegged to training issues. “The resulting projection for the start-up of Unit 1 operations reflects the time required for the plants nuclear operators to complete operational readiness activities and to obtain necessary regulatory approvals,” Nawah told Reuters.

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)