South Korean President: Country Needs More Nuclear Power

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said his country’s push to be carbon-neutral by 2050 must include construction of more nuclear power generation, in a reversal of his predecessor’s call to move away from the technology.

Yoon, speaking Jan. 16 at an event in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said his country would renew its commitment to nuclear power. His comments came as South Korea continues its work on the Barakah nuclear power station, the UAE’s first atomic power facility. South Korea is a major exporter of nuclear power technology and has a $20 billion contract to build the Barakah facility in the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi.

The Barakah plant received a POWER Top Plant award in 2021 after its first reactor came online.

“Korea has … declared its 2050 carbon-neutrality goal,” Yoon said Monday during a presentation at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week conference. “To achieve this goal, we are working to rapidly restore the nuclear power system, which supplies carbon-free electricity.”

More Projects in UAE

Yoon, elected in March 2022, said South Korea wants to continue working with the UAE to secure construction of future projects in the emirate, which has relied heavily on its oil and gas industry to supply energy but recently announced it wants to develop renewable power resources. Yoon’s remarks, with UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in attendance, presumably were designed to pave the way for the countries to continue to develop their relationship, particularly around clean energy projects.

The Barakah nuclear power plant’s  four APR-1400 reactors will supply up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs once fully operational. Courtesy: ENEC

“If our two countries join efforts in clean energy development … it will not only enhance our two countries’ energy security but also will contribute to global energy market stability,” Yoon said. He added that he hoped his country’s work at Barakah could expand this “new model of cooperation” to include construction of smaller reactors, along with development of nuclear fuel and other advances.

“Through the construction of the Barakah nuclear power plant, we were able to develop relations that are now genuinely like brothers,” Yoon said of South Korea’s relationship with the UAE.

Reversal of Previous Policy

Former South Korean President Moon Jae-in wanted to move South Korea away from nuclear power amid safety and other concerns after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan. The country has 26 operating reactors, according to the World Nuclear Association, producing about 23 GW of electricity.

Yoon after taking office in May of last year scrapped the policy of the previous administration, noting concerns about climate change and high prices for fossil fuels, including natural gas. South Korea has been a major importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Energy analysts said they expect the country’s reliance on LNG will lessen this year, as nuclear and renewable power generation increases.

Yoon’s administration already has announced it expects to extend the lifespan of the country’s existing reactors. The 1.4-GW No. 1 Shin Hanul nuclear power plant restarted on Dec. 7 of last year, after more than a decade of construction delays. Government officials have said they expect that unit could replace about 1.4 million mt/year of LNG imports.

Officials also have said they expect the 1.4-GW No. 2 Shin Hanul plant will enter commercial operation this year, giving South Korea 27 operating reactors and helping move the country closer to Yoon’s goal of having nuclear power supply at least one-third of the nation’s electricity by 2026.

Visit to Barakah

Yoon and Sheikh Mohammed on Monday visited the Barakah plant, located in the far western desert in the UAE, near the border with Saudi Arabia. The power station is South Korea’s initial attempt to build nuclear reactors in a foreign country, as opposed to just supplying technology. When complete, Barakah will feature four Korean-built APR-1400 reactors, built by Korea Electric Power Corp., or KEPCO, and have 5.6 GW of generation capacity. The plant is expected to supply about 25% of the UAE’s total electricity once all four units are operating.

Units 1 and 2 at Barakah are already in service. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp., or ENEC, on Monday said construction of Unit 3 is now complete, and Unit 4 is nearing completion. Both Unit 3 and Unit 4 are expected to be online this year.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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