The policy effectively reverses the previous administration’s plans to phase out commercial nuclear energy.
Former president Moon Jae-in’s policy had been to retire the country’s 24 commercial reactors, which supply about 30% of its electricity generation, and refrain from building new ones.
By contrast, new president Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office earlier this year, is bullish on the need for South Korea to embrace nuclear energy. He has said building nuclear power plants is a global trend and essential to the reduction of carbon and energy security, noting that the EU had recently classified nuclear power as green energy in its sustainable finance taxonomy.
The planned 30% share of nuclear – a potential increase of at least 2% from today – means existing reactors will be kept in operation as long as regulations allow.
According to International Atomic Energy Agency data South Korea’s fleet of 24 commercial nuclear plants generated about 28% of the country’s electricity in 2021.
“The 30% goal makes official the policy of increasing nuclear power utilisation in view of [the need for] carbon neutrality and energy security,” a statement by ministry of trade, industry and energy said.
The ministry added that the new energy policy is intended to replace the previous government’s nuclear phaseout plan.
Seoul Wants Overseas Nuclear ‘Task Forces’
The government said the new policy takes into account changing factors including South Korea’s desire for climate neutrality, the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war, uncertainty in the global supply chain and energy security. Its principles were approved on 5 July at a cabinet meeting chaired by Mr Yoon.
Business Korea reported that the government is going to set up task forces in 10 to 15 embassies this year to help South Korean nuclear power plant builders win contracts abroad. The locations of the task forces are predicted to include the Czech Republic, Poland, Saudi Arabia, the UK, the Netherlands, South Africa and Slovenia.
Work on Shin-Hanul-3 and Shin-Hanul-4 was halted in 2017 under the nuclear phaseout policy of the previous administration.
According to press reports in South Korea, the government has said approvals would be completed and contracts concluded by 2024 so construction of both Shin-Hanul plants can resume in the first half of 2025.
South Korea is promoting its nuclear knowhow abroad. Representatives of the new government have met officials from the Czech Republic and Poland to discuss the possible construction of new reactors using Seoul’s APR-1400 reactor technology.
South Korea has two APR-1400 units in operation at Shin-Kori-3 and Shin-Kori-4 and four units nearing completion or under construction at Shin-Hanul-1, Shin-Hanul-2, Shin-Kori-5 and Shin-Kori-6.
The government has also said it plans to spend 400 billion won ($320m) over the next six years to develop next-generation small modular reactors, according to reports.
The investment decision came as a science ministry project for developing an innovative SMR passed a preliminary feasibility study stage, according to trade and science ministries’ announcement.
The government will inject a total of 399.2 billion won into the project for developing an advanced SMR from 2023 to 2028. The SMR will be designed to have power generation capacity of 300 MW or less.