South Korea to Restart Construction on 2 Nuclear Reactors

South Korea to Restart Construction on 2 Nuclear Reactors
South Korea's President Yoon Suk-Yeol in Madrid, on June 29, 2022. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

South Korea said on July 5 that it will restart construction on two nuclear reactors and continue to operate nuclear energy facilities that are already running.

The move was made "in accordance with the highest decision-making procedures" of new President Yoon Suk-yeol's administration, according to South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy.
The energy ministry said that completing the Shin-Hanul No. 3 and No. 4 nuclear reactors will help achieve its goal of increasing nuclear power in South Korea's energy generation to 30 percent or more by 2030. Nuclear power currently makes up roughly 27 percent of the country's energy mix. According to the World Nuclear Association, South Korea currently has 25 nuclear reactors in operation.

The energy ministry said on July 5 that it would also look into how to treat "high-level radioactive waste."

Yoon, who assumed office on May 10, had promised to boost investment in the nuclear industry and revive its status as a key exporter of safe nuclear reactors. Energy companies in South Korea have been expanding their nuclear energy businesses after Yoon promised to increase nuclear power plants.

Boosting nuclear energy marks a sharp policy reversal from that of the previous government, led by then-President Moon Jae-in, who had pushed to phase out nuclear power over some 45 years. Construction work on the two nuclear reactors had been stalled since 2017 when Moon took office.

A 2011 earthquake and tsunami that damaged three nuclear reactors at Japan's Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant triggered a global downturn in the nuclear power industry. Public sentiment around nuclear power leaned further toward caution in 2016 after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit the southeastern region of the Korean Peninsula, where most of the country's nuclear plants are located.

Exporting Nuclear Power

In addition to restarting construction on the two nuclear reactors, the South Korean Energy Ministry said it plans to export 10 nuclear reactors by 2030 and also develop a small modular reactor with a $300 million investment by the same year.

Yoon and other officials recently traveled to Europe to attend the G-7 and NATO summits, where Yoon promoted South Korean nuclear energy in meetings with officials of Poland and the Czech Republic, both of whom are seeking contractors for their new nuclear power plants.

"We will go all-in to win orders for nuclear power plants vis-a-vis countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic, where the selection of contractors is imminent," Choi Sang-mok, South Korea's senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, told reporters at a briefing on June 28.

"For the past five years, we saw a contradictory situation where at home, we were seeking to go nuclear-free, but overseas, we were pursuing exports of nuclear power plants," he said, referring to the policy of the Moon administration. "The nuclear industry was practically on the brink of collapse, but now we plan to resume nuclear power exports."

Restarting construction reactors and exporting nuclear power are part of a plan the South Korean Energy Ministry shared on July 5, to achieve the nation's policy goals of ensuring energy security and attaining "carbon-neutral goals" amid global energy supply chain pressures.

The energy ministry said it also seeks to reduce reliance on fossil fuel imports to 60 percent by 2030 from 81.8 percent in 2021. It also noted that phasing out coal, a type of fossil fuel, must be done in a "rational manner" while considering supply-and-demand conditions.

South Korea is the world's fourth-largest oil importer after China, India, and Japan, according to state-run Korea National Oil Corp., while its state-run Korea Gas Corp. is the world's largest single corporate buyer of liquefied natural gas, according to a Korea Gas Corp. spokesperson.

Reuters contributed to this report.