Ministry plans to launch public discussion on the thorny issue of spent nuclear fuel depository
Choi Tae-hyun, director general for the Nuclear
Power Industry at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy
“Korea aims to develop safety-oriented nuclear power plants proved to be the safest in the world by 2030,” said Choi Tae-hyun, director general for the Nuclear Power Industry at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE). The Nu-Tech 2030 Project calls for enhancing safety technologies of nuclear plants that can endure any nuclear disasters beyond expectations, reflecting on the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident.
In an interview with NewsWorld, he said, “We’re also seeking to develop technologies related to the industrializing of the decommission of worn-out nuclear power units to brace for ways of handling aged nuclear power plants.” The following are excerpts of the interview with Dir. Gen. Choi in which he spoke of policies to nurture the nuclear power industry into an export industry and pending issues such as the construction of a spent nuclear fuel depository.
Question: Will you tell our readers about the ripple effects of the Nu-Tech 2012 Project?
Answer: The Nu-Tech 2012 Project is the revised version of the Nu-Tech 2015 Project, which was shortened by three years in 2009 to the period between 2009 and 2012 to advance the development of core and original technologies of nuclear power plants in order to explore overseas markets.
The project calls for the homegrown development of the Man Machine Interface System(MMIS), , Reactor Coolant Pumps (RCP), and Core Cord for the Design of Nuclear Power Plants, which had been supplanted with imports from foreign countries, as well as Advanced power Reactor+ (APR+), the upgraded version of the homegrown nuclear power plant APR1400, which is the same kind of nuclear power unit being built in the United Arab Emirates. APR+ is a 1,500MW-class nuclear reactor, outfitted with the Passive Auxiliary Feedwater System (PAFS), which is designed to ensure safety for at least three days in the case of power loss, which is what happened at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
The government and the Korean nuclear power industry shouldered a combined 320 billion won for the project, and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), KEPCO E&C, and other public enterprises as well as Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction and various SMEs were involved in the project.
With the successful completion of the project, Korea now stands as a self-sufficient nuclear power country, and it takes on significance as the nation can now export nuclear power plant technology on its own without the help of foreign firms.
The homegrown technologies are to be applied to new nuclear power units to be built in Korea on a gradual basis after going through a stage of commercialization. They will have an effect of substituting more than 500 billion won worth of foreign technology imports, equal to the cost of constructing two new nuclear power units. In a word, it means that the money, which was given to foreign companies before the localization of the core technologies, has now changed into Korean companies’ profits.
Q: Will you introduce us to the Nu-Tech 2030 Project?
A: Nu-Tech 2030 is a follow-up to Nu-Tech 2012, which is a roadmap for the development of challenging nuclear technology that can compete with advanced countries by raising the nation’s technology to world-class levels by 2030.
In particular, as public misgivings over the safety of nuclear power units have mounted in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident, steps need to be taken to dramatically improve safety. Safety of nuclear power units is predicted to loom large in term of competitiveness rather than their economical features.
In order to obtain the goals of the Nu-Tech 2030 Project, Korea aims to develop safety-oriented nuclear power plants proved to be the safest in the world by 2030. The project calls for enhancing safety technologies of nuclear plants that can endure any nuclear disasters beyond our expectations, reflecting on the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident.
We’re also seeking to develop technologies related to the decommissioning of worn out nuclear power units to brace for ways of handling aged nuclear power plants.
Q: Will you elaborate on the significance of the safety of nuclear power units in operation in Korea and the direction of future nuclear power policies?
A: The Korean and global nuclear power industries are undergoing upheavals as concerns are mounting over the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident. Countries are scurrying to ensure the safety of their nuclear power plants, so the reality is that each country is taking a different attitude depending on its energy, resources, and industrial infrastructure conditions.
For Korea, atomic power is the realistically inevitable alternative, given the nation’s energy/resources supply conditions, coping with crude oil price hikes and climate change and the stabilizing of electricity supply amidst a rising demand. But in consideration of the recent internal and external environment changes, the 2nd National Energy Master Plan, to be announced during this year, will likely determine the optimal portion of nuclear power generation corresponding to the nation’s energy environment and the degree of public acceptance.
Top policy priority will be attached to ensuring the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident, however. Currently, we have implemented additional measures to improve equipment enough to ensure safety despite unexpected natural disasters to follow up on the latest nuclear accident. We’ll devote ourselves to living up to the measures to innovate the Korean nuclear power industry, which was announced of late, to minimize the disruption of operation of nuclear units and prevent wrongdoings and document forgeries involving subcontractors similar to the latest revelations.
The foremost thing in implementing nuclear power policies is to gain confidence. I consider that we should make a back-to-basics approach, albeit difficult, to solve these issues. We’ll redouble efforts to ease public misgivings over nuclear power and enhance confidence by ramping up communications and holding frequent meetings with people.
Q: Will you touch on the current status and plans of the nuclear power units being built in the UAE, the first exportation of Korea’s homegrown nuclear power technology?
A: The UAE nuclear power project calls for the construction of four 1,400MW-class nuclear power units by 2020, Korea’s biggest overseas plant export to date. The overall rate of the project’s progress stood at about 15 percent as of the end of last year, going seamlessly ahead of schedule.
The project obtained a green light on the construction of the nuclear power units from the Federal Agency for Nuclear Regulation in the UAE and a ground-breaking ceremony took place at the construction site last November with Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan on hand. A reactor is to be installed in Unit 1 next July, with dedication scheduled for 2017.
Following the completion of the project, Korean companies will likely partake in the operation of the units and maintenance, creating quality jobs for about 1,000 people.
Q: Will you specify strategies to nurture the nuclear power industry into an export industry?
A: Nuclear power is a state-of-the-art technology field currently limited to six exporting countries °™ the United States, France, Canada, Russia, Japan, and Korea. It has enormous spill-over effects, so major nuclear powerhouses rally behind their bid to export nuclear power technology through political, economic, and diplomatic channels.
In this vein, the Korean government is making concerted efforts to export Korea’s own nuclear power technology to such countries as Finland, Vietnam, and Turkey. Korea is ramping up its negotiating power by holding ranking officials’ meetings and dispatching sales diplomacy teams while offering support for building nuclear power infrastructure such as safety regulatory regime and manpower development to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and others seeking to introduce nuclear power plants in a run up to international biddings.
The nation continues to localize core nuclear power technologies to cope with demand for technology transfer and push ahead with a project to develop manpower specializing in the construction and operation of nuclear power units.
Q: Will you speak about the current status and steps to treat and manage radwaste?
A: Radwaste is divided into low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.
The long-standing task of securing the site of a facility designed to dispose of low- and intermediate-level radwaste in Gyeongju has already been done. Construction of an underground facility capable of storing 100,000 drums of radwaste is underway. The work is 94 percent done and the facility is to be completed by June 2014.
There is the pending issue of securing a permanent depository for treating spent nuclear fuel, which has become a globally thorny issue of social conflicts, however. We’ll concentrate on gaining public acceptance over the issue through collecting people’s opinions.
In Korea, Ulchin, Wolsung, Kori, and Yongkwang nuclear power complexes have temporarily stored a combined 373,000 bundles of spent nuclear fuel at their sites as of last September. The disruption of nuclear power units is feared as the temporary storage facilities are expected to reach a stage of saturation starting in 2016. Steps to manage spent nuclear fuel, including the arrangement of interim storage facilities, need to be taken urgently.
The government plans to establish a civic advisory committee designed to study and discuss ways of managing spent nuclear fuel from various perspectives in the first half of this year, in order to collect views from several walks of life and explore short- and mid-term alternative options, including steps to secure interim storage facilities. The government plans to establish a master plan for managing radwaste, reflecting on recommendations to be made by the civic advisory committee and to flesh out ideas on securing a site for a spent nuclear fuel depository in accordance with the master plan.