Until recently, the success story of nuclear energy was considered a national pride of South Korea, as the country was not only able to establish a strong domestic nuclear market but also compete with other countries on the export front. However, the decision by the newly-elected president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, to gradually phase out nuclear energy in South Korea has affected both the domestic and export prospects of the Korean nuclear industry. Such a policy, once implemented, will decimate South Korea’s hope for exporting nuclear technology by undermining credibility, capability, and opportunity. In 2009, South Korea won its first nuclear contract abroad when the United Arab Emirates selected the consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) over more experienced bidders from France, the United States, and Japan to build four APR1400 units at Barakah. In the same year, the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) and Daewoo scored another win for South Korea in the nuclear export market when they secured a contract to supply the first research reactor for Jordan. The nuclear export ambitions of South Korea during this booming period were reflected through the Ministry of Knowledge Economy’s optimistic 2010 plan to export 80 reactors by 2030. More modestly, in 2015, (after Fukushima) KEPCO projected six new contracts through 2020. it appears that the Moon administration will continue its predecessors’ policy of promoting Korean nuclear technology abroad given the recent statement of South Korea’s new energy minister: “The problem we’re facing is having multiple units in a small country, and if other countries do not have such problems, I have no intention to stop exports at all and am planning to support such moves.” Despite such reassuring messages and other good news on the export front, like the smooth implementation of the Barakah project, Moon’s nuclear reversal will negatively affect South Korea’s nuclear export ambition in three aspects: credibility, capability, and opportunity. In term of credibility, it is reasonable to argue that when the Korean president has openly stated that nuclear energy needs to be phased out for the sake of public safety, it will be very difficult to convince other countries to import the exact same kind of technology from South Korea. From a global perspective, the future of South Korea’s nuclear export capability is also of great interest. After the disintegration of the French nuclear giant Areva and the aforementioned downfall of Westinghouse, prospective customers will likely prefer a more competitive export market, with the strong presence of South Korea, to a rising duopoly between Russia and China.
The Diplomat 12th Aug 2017 read more »