Korean Nuclear Power
Industry Steps on the Gas
Works on the development of next-generation reactors & pyroprocessing
Korea has risen to the sixth nuclear powerhouse in the world in terms of nuclear power units thanks to its undaunted implementation of nuclear power projects. The nation now looks to nourish the domestic nuclear power industry by capitalizing on the global trend for the construction of nuclear power plants.
"The government strives to establish plans to upgrade the existing nuclear reactors with a mid-term approach, while accelerating its bid to develop the Generation IV Nuclear Systems (Gen-IV), a more economical and less proliferative system than the APR-1400, developed on its own technology, in a long-term perspective,"said Kim Young-shik, director general of the Atomic Energy Bureau at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. "If things go as smoothly as planned, Korea looks to have the Gen-IV reactors supplying power by 2028. Korean researchers are working on the development of pyroprocessing, a technology designed to process spent nuclear fuel through the Gen-IV reactors,"he said. The following are excerpts of his interview ¡ª Ed.
Question: Will you tell our readers about the current status of the achievements the domestic nuclear power industry has made on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Korean nuclear power generation?
orea has risen to the sixth nuclear powerhouse in the world in terms of nuclear power units thanks to its undaunted implementation of nuclear power projects. The nation now looks to nourish the domestic nuclear power industry by capitalizing on the global trend for the construction of nuclear power plants.
"The government strives to establish plans to upgrade the existing nuclear reactors with a mid-term approach, while accelerating its bid to develop the Generation IV Nuclear Systems (Gen-IV), a more economical and less proliferative system than the APR-1400, developed on its own technology, in a long-term perspective,"said Kim Young-shik, director general of the Atomic Energy Bureau at the Ministry of Education,Answer: This year marks the 50th anniversary of Korea's embarking on activities related to nuclear energy and the 30th anniversary of nuclear power plant in Korea.
Currently, 20 nuclear power units are in operation in the Kori, Wolsong, Yonggwang and Uljin areas, accounting for about 40 percent of the nation's power supply. Nuclear power has greatly contributed to stabilizing domestic prices and raising national competitiveness as well as the protection of the environment by curtailing carbon dioxide emissions by about 500 million tons, equivalent to some 20 percent of the nation's annual greenhouse gas discharges.
Institutions taking advantage of radioisotope and radiation have grown to about 3,500 with an annual increase of 10 percent with the aim of diagnosing and treating cancers and creating new industries related to industrial, agricultural and environmental uses of atomic energy.
It is noteworthy that four kinds of space foods served to Korea's first astronaut Yi So-yeon, who returned from her voyage to the International Space Station this past April, were made with radiation.
Q: Will you speak about the current status of the nuclear reactors Korea has developed using its own technology and the construction of Korean-type nuclear power units?
A: Nuclear power technologies from the United States, Canada and France were directly applied to Korea's initial construction of nuclear power units.
However, Korea challenged the localization of Korean-type nuclear power, adopting the strong points of the three country. It was in 1995 when Korea became self-sufficient in the development of nuclear power technology. Eight nuclear power units -- Yonggwang Nuclear Power Units 3, 4, 5 & 6, and Uljin Nuclear Power Units 3, 4, 5 & 6, which were constructed with the 1 million kW-class OPR-1000, developed with Korea's own technology, are now in operation. Shingori Nuclear Power Units 1 & 2 and Shinwolsong Nuclear Power Units 1 & 2 are under construction. The nation is also constructing Shingori Nuclear Units 3 & 4 with the 1.4 million kW-class APR-1400, a safer and more economic system than the OPR-1000. The number of nuclear power units in operation in Korea will rise to 28 by 2015.
Q: Will you elaborate on the mid- and long-term development of nuclear reactors?
A: A plan for the construction and operation of nuclear power units needs to be established in a mid- and long-term perspective in that the construction and operation of nuclear power units require four to five years and more than 30 years, respectively. In this regard, the government strives to establish plans to upgrade the existing nuclear reactors in a mid-term approach while accelerating its bid to develop the Generation IV Nuclear Systems (Gen-IV), a more economical and less proliferative than the APR-1400, developed on its own, in a long-term perspective.
If things go as smoothly as planned, Korea looks to have the Gen-IV reactors supplying power by 2028. Korean researchers are working on the development of pyroprocessing, a technology designed to process spent nuclear fuel through the Gen-IV reactors.
Q: Will you tell us the measures taken to step up the safety of the Kori Nuclear Unit One that has allowed its continued operation beyond its design life?
A: The nuclear unit resumed operation in a full-power mode on Jan. 9, 2008, opening a new chapter in the history of the domestic nuclear power industry.
An examination into the continued operation of nuclear facilities will give priority in assessing such categories as age-related deterioration, the soundness of systems, components and structures, and the durability of pipes. Continued operation is required to meet 112 safety standards in 16 categories. Such systems as steam generators and the main power generator were replaced during the review of the Kori Unit One, a fire protection regime was upgraded and it underwent a review by experts from the United States, Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to raise the reliability of the assessment.
Foreign countries give a go-ahead to the continued operation of nuclear plants unless there is a safety problem. In the United States, 48 nuclear units have already been permitted to remain in operation after the expiration of their design life. They include three units similar to Kori Unit One. Three more units are to be scrutinized for their continued operation. Japanese authorities have approved the continued operation of 13 nuclear units, including three similar to the Kori unit.
In the early stage of introducing nuclear power units, Korea followed safety regulations adopted by foreign counties, including the United States. However, the nation's nuclear units are under Korea's own safety regulations, stipulated according to its technological levels. Nations that need to follow regulations set by Korea are on the rise. The International Nuclear Safety School opened in Korea this past January to provide support for the education of nuclear safety in the Asian region, reflecting Korea's improved standing.
The Kori Unit One, approved for its continued operation, will receive periodic inspections at intervals of about 12 to 13 months, and each time an abnormal situation occurs, it will be checked to ensure its safety. Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. plans to raise the safety of the unit by replacing the reactor head and emergency power generator and improving the main control console equipment by 2013.
Q: Will you tell us of the prospects of the global nuclear power industry in the wake of climate change and the Korean nuclear power industry's bid to enter the international nuclear market?
A: As the world sees crude prices surging to more than $120 per barrel lately and energy-rich countries continue to exploit their natural resources to maximize their national interests, how to secure a stable supply of energy and brace for the implementation of international pacts on climate change by restricting greenhouse gas emissions have become the much-talked about topics. The most promising answer for solving these problems is nuclear energy, so countries that have nuclear power units are striving to build more, while others with no nuclear power plants are trying to go ahead with new projects to introduce nuclear power. Countries that have so far expressed a negative attitude toward nuclear power have tended to shift to a positive spin.
Korea has risen to the sixth nuclear powerhouse in the world in terms of nuclear power units thanks to its undaunted implementation of nuclear power projects. The nation now looks to nourish the domestic nuclear power industry by capitalizing on the global trend for the construction of nuclear power plants. Thanks to its 50 years of strenuous R&D activities in the area of nuclear energy, Korea own nuclear power and radiation utilization have reached substantially high levels, enough to acquire the potential to export them, and their exporting environment is improving. However, Korea has chalked up a little more than a meager $400 million worth of exports, despite higher expectations.
In an effort to boost nuclear energy exports, Korea needs to improve the quality of the existing export items in order to attract clients while trying to explore new items tailored to make the most of its strong points and cultivate them as global brands. Mainstay exports of the nuclear power sector include nuclear power systems & components, facility maintenance & repair services, operation training and consulting services. Now is the time as the domestic nuclear power industry is aggressively capping the plant export sector by capitalizing on its own technology. In the non-nuclear power sector, radioisotope sealed sources, cyclotrons, eco-friendly radiation detectors, radioactive-rays generators, radiation instruments and non-destructive inspection instruments are shipped to such countries as China, Japan, Russia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, India and North America, and they need to upgrade their image and brand.
If, with the nuclear technology export support corps taking the initiative, inter-ministry collaboration channels are operated well according to export strategies tailored to meet the characteristics of each import county, Korea is likely to post more than $500 million worth of exports during this year.
Q: Will you discuss the construction schedule of the low- and intermediate-level radwaste treatment center?
A: A facility capable of storing 800,000 drums of low- and intermediate level radwaste is to be constructed at a site in Yangbuk-myeon, Gyeongju City, which was selected through a residents'referendum. Upon the completion of a safety check into the projected radwaste depository, the nation will launch the first phase of the project, calling for the construction of six silos capable of accommodating 100,000 drums with a cavern disposal method with completion slated for late 2009.
Q: Will you talk about the debate on the construction of a high-level radioactive waste treatment facility and future implementation plans?
A: It is more important to determine how to manage intermediate-level radwaste as well as spent fuel in a safe manner rather than when and where such waste is kept.
The nation does not yet have high-level radioactive waste, but is now studying how to reuse spent fuel arising from the operation of 20 nuclear power units. Unless spent fuel is reused, the nation has to seclude large amounts of spent fuel, classified as high-level radwaste, and manage them separately. However, a new technology applied to the reuse of spent fuel could not only reduce the amounts of radwaste by 1/20th and the management time by 1/1,000th, but also translate into tremendous amounts of fuel, equivalent to that required for the operation of 20 1-million-kW-class nuclear units for 150 years -- a point to which we have to pay keen attention.
In this regard, Korea began to work on the development of pyroprocessing for the non-proliferation reuse of spent fuel. A task force on nuclear fuel cycling policies, activated in April last year, has established a total road map of national nuclear R&D.
After discussions with experts and a sounding out of a wide range of public opinions by the end of this year, the ministry plans to finalize the "National Nuclear R&D Total Road Map"under which it will work out steps to mange spent fuel in cooperation with the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, so the domestic atomic power community will be likely to join forces by clearing it of any unwanted suspicion and doubt from the international community.
Q: What steps do you employ to raise public acceptance of nuclear power?
A: In the past, we have had difficulties in dispelling our neighbors'negative views toward nuclear power. However, I understand the public's hope runs high toward nuclear power now that oil price hikes and climate change have made nuclear power more significant.
I think it is desirable to have the public recognize the fact that nuclear power contributes to not only ensuring "energy security,"environmental protection and an improvement in the quality of public life based on the achievements our nation has made in the past 30 years, but also serving as a core growth engine behind the development of science and technology.
To this end, the government is stepping up education for our youth and children to have the right understanding of nuclear energy, promote the exchange of related information through meetings with residents about safety issues and discussions with experts and provide data about the safety reviews and inspections of nuclear power plants in real time via the Internet.
In particular, as this year marks the 30th anniversary of nuclear power generation in Korea, it plans to strengthen steps to publicize nuclear power so that the general public can recognize nuclear power as "an environmentally-friendly, trustworthy and thankful energy source." nw
Kim Young-shik, director general of the Atomic Energy Bureau at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
The Sodium-cooled Fast Reactor System, whose development is being pushed by Korea as one of the next-generation reactors that will serve as the driving force behind the development of the domestic nuclear power industry.