Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude exporter, is set to announce a plan to build two nuclear reactors to reduce its reliance on oil, drawing keen attention from major nuclear power producers including South Korea, China, France and Russia.
The Gulf nation held a presentation Monday on its nuclear energy program on the sidelines of the conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency held in Austria.
South Korean officials in charge of the nuclear policy and officials from the state-run utility Korea Electric Corp. attended the presentation and held bilateral meetings with Saudi Arabian officials to step up cooperation in the sector, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said.
The Saudi Arabian government has not yet officially announced a detailed schedule and the exact amount to be allocated to the project, but industry sources familiar with the matter said Saudi Arabia plans to issue a request for information in the coming months.
During the meeting, Seoul officials pledged state-level support for the big infrastructure project in a bid to ease concerns that the government's nuclear phase-out plan could negatively affect its export prospects.
|This photo provided by the Korea Electric Power Corp. shows nuclear reactors, which are under construction by the Korean utility company in the United Arab Emirates on Oct. 20, 2016. (Yonhap)|
"The government will actively push for nuclear energy cooperation with Saudi Arabia as part of its broader support for the peaceful use of nuclear power," the ministry said in a statement. "South Korea expressed hope that the nuclear program in the UAE would provide a good indicator for the Saudi Arabian project, expressing hope for increased cooperation in the nuclear energy field as well as other areas."
In 2009, South Korea won a $20 billion contract to build four nuclear reactors in the UAE, the first time it has exported its home-grown commercial atomic power technology abroad.
Departing from the previous administration that viewed nuclear energy as a "clean resource" and export driver, President Moon Jae-in has pledged to step back from nuclear power and expand investment in renewable energy.
The anti-nuclear policy has caused concerns among industry insiders and parts suppliers that it could undermine South Korea's global competitiveness in the face of China's aggressive expansion into nuclear power plants abroad.
Asia's fourth-largest economy operates 24 nuclear reactors that generate about 30 percent of its electricity needs. (Yonhap)