The Korea Herald


[Editorial] A new leap forward

Dedication of Shin Hanul No. 1 marks end of nuclear phaseout

By Korea Herald

Published : Dec. 16, 2022 - 05:31

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A ceremony to mark the completion of the first unit of the Shin Hanul nuclear power plant in Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province, on Wednesday has more meaning than merely adding a nuclear reactor to the country.

It is the nation's 27th nuclear reactor and the first completed under the pro-nuclear administration of President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Its reactor "APR1400" is the first domestically designed model to adopt two fully localized core parts -- a human-machine interface system and reactor coolant pump. The life span of the model is 60 years -- 20 years longer than its predecessor OPR1000. Its design was certified as fully acceptable for use in the United States by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2019.

Recognized as one of the world's most advanced models, APR1400 is being marketed for export by Korea Electric Power Corp. Two units of the model are completed and in commercial operation in the United Arab Emirates at Barakah. Korea plans to export 10 nuclear power plants by 2030, and Shin Hanul No. 1 is expected to be a reference reactor in attaining the goal.

The reactor also symbolizes the end of the nuclear phase-out policy stubbornly pushed by the anti-nuclear former President Moon Jae-in. Shin Hanul No. 1 was a scapegoat of the policy. Its commercial operation was scheduled to begin in 2017, but it was delayed for five years, affected by the policy. The Yoon administration is trying to restore the ecology of the domestic nuclear power industry, which was driven by Moon's policy to the brink of breaking down.

The reactor will contribute greatly to a stable supply of electric power this winter, reduce imports of energy resources and help improve the country's trade balance. It is expected to increase the nation's electricity reserve capacity by 1.6 percentage points and replace 1.4 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas annually imported for electricity generation.

The government plans to begin the commercial run of the second Shin Hanul APR-1400 in 2023. Construction of Shin Hanul Nos. 3 and 4, suspended under Moon's nuclear phase-out plan, will resume in 2024. Then, Korea will have 30 nuclear reactors up and running. The share of nuclear in the country's electric power will rise from the current 27 percent to 32.4 percent in 2030.

Korea's nuclear power industry was shattered over the past five years. Suppliers to nuclear power plants closed business because of a shortage of work, and engineers left the country for competitors abroad. It has become urgent to revive the crumbled ecology of nuclear power industry.

Fortunately, the export possibility of Korean reactors is not entirely gone. Korea pins high hopes on its bids to construct nuclear reactors in Poland and the Czech Republic. Korea's state-run nuclear plant operator, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., assessed a site in Poland for the construction of APR1400 reactors. It is upbeat about winning a contract to build a nuclear reactor in the Czech Republic.

Seoul and Washington pledged to accelerate the development of advanced reactors and small modular reactors. The two allies want to see strengthened cooperation in overseas nuclear markets. Small modular reactors are touted as the future of nuclear energy.

Nuclear power is a low-carbon energy supplying clean and affordable electricity. It is hard to find other alternatives as efficient as nuclear energy that can normalize the management of Korea Electric Power Corp. in dire financial difficulties and lessen the burden of energy costs on the people.

The Yoon administration is making all-out efforts to revive the ecology of Korea's nuclear industry that crumbled under the Moon administration, but the majority opposition Democratic Party of Korea is trying to put a brake on the current government's efforts. The party seeks to eliminate the entire government budget to support small modular reactor projects.

An industrial ecology can break down in a moment, while it takes a long time and a huge fund to restore it. As for now, no energy sources are more suitable to the geographical characteristics of Korea than nuclear one. The party should cooperate in restoring the industry.