Safety concerns cloud S. Korean ambitions to be big nuclear player
By Lim Chang-won, AFPGORI, South Korea -- South Korea has big plans to become a major nuclear energy player, but they are unfolding at a time when the global industry is under intense scrutiny after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
February 28, 2013, 12:36 am TWN
And its ambitions have not been helped by a series of domestic scandals and forced reactor shutdowns in 2012 that rattled public confidence and exposed a glaring lack of regulatory transparency.
Around US$400 billion is riding on South Korea's ability to sell its technology to potential clients as it aims to take on the United States, France and Russia and grab a 20-percent share of the nuclear energy market.
With around half of the world's 430 reactors due for retirement by 2030, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the next 15 years or so offer the prospect of a sales bonanza.
Spearheading South Korea's global drive is its ARP-1400 reactor. It won a US$20 billion deal in 2009 to build four of them in the United Arab Emirates and it aims to export another 80, worth around US$400 billion, by 2030.
It is also planning a domestic energy expansion that would see it build 16 new reactors by 2030. South Korea currently operates 23 nuclear power reactors which meet more than 35 percent of the country's electricity needs.
“Our reactors are safe,” Lee Young-il insisted as he guided a group around an ARP-1400 nearing completion at the Gori nuclear power complex.
“We also have an excellent record of operating the reactors with a comparatively low annual rate of forced outage,” said Lee, who heads the complex where South Korea's first commercial reactor came on line in 1978.
But the Fukushima disaster in Japan forced a number of countries to rethink their energy strategy, as public concern placed an even greater emphasis than before on reactor safety.
A survey commissioned by the Economics Ministry and published in November showed only 35 percent of South Koreans considered nuclear power to be safe, sharply down from 71 percent in January 2010.