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Nuclear Power in South Korea

(Updated October 2014)

  • South Korea is set to become a major world nuclear energy country, exporting technology. It won a $20 billion contract to supply four nuclear reactors to UAE, and the first of these are under construction.
  • 23 reactors provide almost one-third of South Korea's electricity from 20.7 GWe of plant. Considerable new capacity is planned by 2035.
  • Nuclear energy remains a strategic priority for South Korea, and capacity is planned to increase by 59% to 32.9 GWe by 2022, and then maintain that level to 2035.

South Korea imports 97% of its fuel, by ship. Some $170 billion was spent on imported energy in 2011, one third of all imports. Without nuclear power, this import bill would have been about $20 billion higher according to KEPCO.

Power demand in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) has increased by more than 9% per year since 1990 but slowed to about 2.8% pa 2006-10 and projected 2.5% pa to 2020. Per capita consumption in 2011 was 9500 kWh, up from 850 kWh/yr in 1980. Over the last three decades, South Korea has enjoyed 8.6% average annual growth in GDP, which has caused corresponding growth in electricity consumption – from 33 billion kWh in 1980 to 499 billion kWh in 2011.

In 2012 electricity production was 531 TWh gross, with 223 TWh of this from coal, 155 TWh (29%) from nuclear, 121 TWh from gas, 22 TWh from oil and 6 TWh from hydro. At the end of 2012 installed capacity was 24.5 GWe coal, 20.7 GWe gas, 20.7 GWe nuclear, 7.1 GWe oil, 6.4 GWe hydro and 2.3 GWe renewable and other – total 81.8 GWe.

Generation capacity of 81.8 GWe at the end of 2012 is expected to grow to 101 GWe total in 2022. At the end of 2012 nuclear capacity of 20.7 GWe (25% of total) was supplying 29% of power. In 2020 nuclear capacity of 27.3 GWe is expected to supply 226 billion kWh – 43.4% of electricity, simply considering those units now under construction. In 2022 nuclear capacity of 32.9 GWe (20.2 from present, 6.7 under construction, 6.0 planned) is expected to be nearly one-third of the national total of 101 GWe then. By 2030 the government earlier expected nuclear to supply 59% of the power (333 TWh), from 41% of the installed capacity. This would require adding about 24 GWe nuclear by 2030. But at the end of 2013 a draft proposal to government was for nuclear to provide only 29% of capacity by 2035, instead of 41%, hence holding it at around the 2022 level.

Nuclear power costs are low in Korea: for 2008 KHNP reports 39 won (KRW) per kWh (about 3¢/kWh), compared with coal 53.7 won, LNG 143.6 won and hydro 162 won. KHNP average price to KEPCO is 68.3 won (about 5¢) per kWh.

From 1961 until April 2001 South Korea's sole electric power utility was Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO). Set up as a government corporation, 49% of its shares are now held by public and foreign (c30%) investors. The power generation part of KEPCO (now 68 GWe) was then split into six entities and all the nuclear generation capacity, with a small amount of hydro, became part of the largest of these, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co Ltd Ð KHNP. KEPCO remains a transmission and distribution monopoly. Korea Power Engineering Company is another KEPCO subsidiary.

Nuclear plants are at only four sites, and future plans and proposals are confined to these sites, so that up to 8 units are likely at each.

KHNP expects to spend 4.7 trillion won ($3.68 billion) on nuclear plants in 2009. It plans to complete 18 nuclear power plants by 2030 at a cost of 40-50 trillion won ($32 to 40 billion), to provide 59% of the country's electricity. This target was endorsed by the Prime Minister in March 2010. In December 2010 the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) projected 14 new nuclear reactors on line by 2024, to provide almost half of the country's electricity.

Development of domestic nuclear policy

Nuclear activities were initiated when South Korea became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957. In 1958 the Atomic Energy Law was passed and in 1959 the Office of Atomic Energy was established by the government. The first nuclear reactor to achieve criticality in South Korea was a small research unit in 1962.

Ten years later construction began of the first nuclear power plant – Kori 1, a Westinghouse unit built on turnkey contract. It started up in 1977 and achieved commercial operation in 1978. After this there was a burst of activity, with eight reactors under construction in the early 1980s.

South Korean energy policy has been driven by considerations of energy security and the need to minimise dependence on current imports. Policy is to continue to have nuclear power as a major element of electricity production.

After drawing on Westinghouse and Framatome (now Areva) technology for its first eight PWR units, and Combustion Engineering (which became part of Westinghouse) for two more, the Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP) became a recognised design, and evolved a little to KSNP+. In 2005 the KSNP/KSNP+ was rebranded as OPR-1000 (Optimised Power Reactor) apparently for Asian markets, particularly Indonesia and Vietnam. Six operating units and four under construction are now designated OPR-1000.

Under the country's 5th long-term power development plan, finalised in January 2000, eight more nuclear units (9200 MWe) were to be constructed by 2015 (in addition to the four then under construction), while two units would be decommissioned about 2008 if licences were not extended. This would bring nuclear to one third of the country's total generating capacity and it would supply 45% of the electricity.

The Ministry of Education, Science & Technology's third comprehensive nuclear energy development plan, for 2007-11, projected that South Korea should develop its nuclear industry into one of the top five in the world, with about 60% of electricity from nuclear by 2035. As well as emphasis on production of nuclear fuel, the report envisaged construction of the Korean APR-1400 reactor, which was in fact also sold to UAE. In the country's 2008 Energy Master Plan to 2030, totalling some $100 billion, the increase was quantified as ten or eleven new nuclear power units to give 41% of electricity from nuclear.

In November 2011 the government reaffirmed its commitment to nuclear energy, and targeted completion of six new reactors by 2016. The Ministry for Knowledge Economy (now MOTIE) announced hopes for 59% of domestic electricity to be from nuclear by 2030, and for South Korea to be the third largest reactor exporter by 2030, supplying 20% of the market, under a plan known as Nu-Tech 2030. This involves the development of indigenous reactor technology with full intellectual property rights known as the Innovative, Passive, Optimised, Worldwide Economical Reactor (I-POWER) by late 2012.

MOTIE’s second Energy Master Plan announced in January 2014 and looking to 2035 scaled back earlier plans and targeted 29% of electricity from nuclear, along with improved demand management and improved public acceptance. This would require 43 GWe of installed capacity by 2035, hence building 7 GWe beyond the 8.6 GWe already planned. The target for renewables of 11% was maintained from 2008.

Nuclear export policy

Shortly following its sale of four modern nuclear power reactors to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the South Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy (now Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy – MOTIE) declared in January 2010 that it aimed to achieve exports of 80 nuclear power reactors worth $400 billion by 2030, in the course of becoming the world's third largest supplier of such technology, with a 20% share of the world market, behind the USA and France or Russia. "Nuclear power-related business will be the most profitable market after automobiles, semiconductors and shipbuilding," it said, adding: "We will promote the industry as a major export business." The Korean industry aimed to be 100% self-sufficient by 2012, with no residual intellectual property constraints. 

Following the UAE sale, it is marketing to Turkey, Jordan, Romania and Ukraine, as well as South East Asian countries. In addition to exporting reactors, it also plans to enter the $78 billion market for the operation, maintenance and repair of reactors.

Licence renewals and uprates

KHNP and MEST (now MOTIE) have been negotiating licence renewals to extend 30-year operating lifetimes by ten years, starting with Kori 1 and Wolsong 1. A six-month upgrading and inspection outage at Kori 1 in the second half of 2007 concluded a major refurbishment program and enabled its relicensing for a further ten years. At Wolsong 1, considerable refurbishment was undertaken in a longer outage from April 2009 to to July 2011, including replacement of all 380 calandria tubes, to give it a further 25 years operational life. It had been operating at slightly derated capacity (622 MWe gross) since 2004, but the refurbishment restored it to design level of 691 MWe gross.

Power uprates of most units occurred at the end of 2005, totalling 693 MWe and reflecting the fact that may had been declaring load factors of over 100% for some time.

Power reactors operating in South Korea

Reactor Type Net capacity Commercial
operation
Planned
close
Kori 1
PWR – Westinghouse
576 MWe
4/78
2017
Kori 2
PWR – Westinghouse
639 MWe
7/83
 
Wolsong 1
PHWR – Candu 6
645 MWe
4/83
2036
Kori 3
PWR – Westinghouse
1003 MWe
9/85
 
Kori 4
PWR – Westinghouse
1001 MWe
4/86
 
Hanbit/Yonggwang 1
PWR – Westinghouse
958 MWe
8/86
 
Hanbit/Yonggwang 2
PWR – Westinghouse
953 MWe
6/87
 
Hanul/Ulchin 1
PWR – Framatome
960 MWe
9/88
 
Hanul/Ulchin 2
PWR – Framatome
962 MWe
9/89
 
Hanbit/Yonggwang 3
PWR (Syst 80)
998 MWe
12/95
 
Hanbit/Yonggwang 4
PWR (Syst 80)
997 MWe
3/96
 
Wolsong 2
PHWR – Candu
653 MWe
7/97
 
Wolsong 3
PHWR – Candu
675MWe
7/98
 
Wolsong 4
PHWR – Candu
679 MWe
10/99
 
Hanul/Ulchin 3
OPR-1000
994 MWe
8/98
 
Hanul/Ulchin 4
OPR-1000
998 MWe
12/99
 
Hanbit/Yonggwang 5
OPR-1000
988 MWe
5/02
 
Hanbit/Yonggwang 6
OPR-1000
995 MWe
12/02
 
Hanul/Ulchin 5
OPR-1000
996 MWe
7/04
 
Hanul/Ulchin 6
OPR-1000
996 MWe
4/05
 
Shin Kori 1
OPR-1000
996 MWe
2/11
 
Shin Kori 2
OPR-1000
993 MWe
7/12
 
Shin Wolsong 1
OPR-1000
991 MWe
7/12
 
Total: 23 20,656 MWe  

Net capacities updated from PRIS January 2014.

In May 2013 Yonggwang was renamed Hanbit and Ulchin was renamed Hanul.

In recent years the capacity factor for South Korean power reactors has averaged up to 96.5% – some of the highest figures in the world.

In 2005 permits for construction of Shin Kori 1&2 and Shin Wolsong 1&2 (all basically 1000 MWe gross) were authorised. First concrete for Shin Kori 1&2 was in June 2006 and August 2007 respectively. For Shin Wolsong first concrete for unit 1 was December 2007 and for unit 2 September 2008. Shin Kori 1 started up in July, was grid connected in August 2010, and entered commercial operation at the end of February 2011. Unit 2 started up at the end of December 2011, was grid connected in January 2012 and entered commercial operation in July. Shin Wolsong 1 started up in January 2012, was grid connected later in the month and entered commercial operation at the end of July. However, it was then shut down to enable replacement of cabling. Shin Wolsong 2 is expected to start up early in 2015 and enter commercial operation mid year, following several months delay to replace cabling.

South Korean reactors under construction or planned

Reactor Type Gross capacity Start construction Commercial operation
Shin Wolsong 2 OPR-1000 1050 MWe September 2008   July 2015
Shin Kori 3 APR1400 1455 MWe October 2008   August 2014*
Shin Kori 4 APR1400 1455 MWe August 2009   September 2014*
Shin Hanul/Ulchin 1 APR1400 1455 MWe July 2012   April 2017
Shin Hanul/Ulchin 2 APR1400 1455 MWe June 2013   April 2018
Shin Kori 5 APR1400 1455 MWe 2016 March 2021
Shin Kori 6 APR1400 1455 MWe 2017 March 2022
Shin Hanul/Ulchin 3 APR1400 1455 MWe 2018 September 2022
Shin Hanul/Ulchin 4 APR1400 1455 MWe 2019 September 2023
Shin Kori 7 APR1400 1455 MWe    
Shin Kori 8 APR1400 1455 MWe    
Total under const: 5   6870 MWe (6600 MWe net)    
Total planned: 6   8730 MWe (8600 MWe net)    

* delayed for recabling. 

Those not under construction are listed as planned in the WNA reactor table. Bold dates = under construction.

Construction of the first pair of third-generation APR1400 reactors – Shin Kori 3&4 – was authorised in 2006 though the actual construction licence was not issued until April 2008. In anticipation of it KHNP placed a US$ 1.2 billion order with Doosan Heavy Industries for major components of these in August 2006. Westinghouse has a $300 million contract with Doosan for part of this order. In February 2007 a contract was let to a consortium led by Hyundai to build the two plants, subsuming the Doosan order. Site works started in November 2007 and first concrete for unit 3 was poured at the end of October 2008, and that for unit 4 in mid September 2009. Construction time of 51 months was envisaged for these first units, but completion was delayed for more than 12 months due to the need to replace cabling.

In April 2009 the government authorised construction of Shin Hanul/Ulchin 1&2 in North Gyeongsang province,and contracts for major components were signed in March 2010. First concrete for unit 1 was poured at the end of July 2012, with completion expected in April 2017. Unit 2 is a year behind it, with first concrete in June 2013. The two units will be the first to be virtually free of Westinghouse IP content and are expected to cost KRW 7 trillion (US$ 6 billion, $2070/kW). Site works commenced in May 2012.

In January 2014 the government authorised construction of Shin Kori 5&6, with construction to start in September 2014, but then delayed. They are expected to cost KRW 7.61 trillion ($7.1 billion, $2450/kW).

Further plants comprising up to four large reactors are planned at either Samcheok in Gangwon province 180 km east of Seoul, or Yeongdeok in North Gyeongsang province 100 km north of Wolsong. However, an unofficial referendum at Samcheok, which volunteered a site in 2010, got a response of 85% against any new reactor there, despite a 97% vote in favour in 2009. A local referendum is planned at Yeongdeok. In April 2013 KHNP said it had applied to build Shin-Kori unit 7, which could defer plans for new sites.

KEPCO is actively marketing OPR-1000 and APR1400 units in Middle East and North African countries. In December 2009 the APR1400 was selected as the basis of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) nuclear power program, with the first four reactors to be operating at Barakah by 2020 under a $20.4 billion contact, and another ten to follow. Construction has commenced. The choice was on the basis of cost and reliability of building schedule. An application for US Design Certification is likely.

Korean government data is reported to put the overnight cost of APR1400 at the end of 2009 as $2300/kW, compared with $2900/kW for EPR and $3580/kW for the GE Hitachi ABWR. The same data puts the generation cost for the APR1400 at US$ 3.03 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with an estimated 3.93 cents/kWh for EPR, and 6.86 cents/kWh for ABWR.

South Korea is very constrained in its nuclear power policy by the 1973 Korea-US Atomic Energy Agreement. This is a so-called '123 Agreement', named after section 123 of the 1954 US Atomic Energy Act, which constrains raw material supply and disallows uranium enrichment and reprocessing used fuel. Following the UAE agreement, the government has described these US constraints as "excessive", and will continue to push for them to be eased, preferably before the Agreement is due for renewal, now in March 2016. The main concern is reprocessing. The 1973 agreement expired in March 2014, though with failure to reach agreement it was extended to 2016 by unanimous vote in both houses of US Congress. Even this time horizon has implications for long lead-time components for building the Barakah units in UAE. See Fuel Cycle section below.

Reactor development, intellectual property

The first three commercial units – Kori 1&2 and Wolsong 1 – were bought as turnkey projects. The next six, Kori 3&4, Hanbit/Yonggwang 1&2, Hanul/Ulchin 1&2, comprised the country's second generation of plants and involved local contractors and manufacturers. At that stage the country had six PWR units derived from Combustion Engineering in USA, two from Framatome in Europe and one from AECL in Canada of radically different design.

Then in the mid 1980s the Korean nuclear industry embarked upon a plan to standardise the design of nuclear plants and to achieve much greater self-sufficiency in building them. In 1987 the industry entered a ten-year technology transfer program with Combustion Engineering (now Westinghouse) to achieve technical self-reliance, and this was extended in 1997.

A sidetrack from this was the ordering of three more Candu-6 Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) units from AECL in Canada, to complete the Wolsong power plant. These units were built with substantial local input and were commissioned 1997-99. (see also DUPIC in R&D section below)

In 1987 the industry selected the CE System 80 (2-loop) steam supply system as the basis of standardisation. Hanbit/ Yonggwang 3&4 were the first to use this, with great success, and they marked significant technical independence for Korea. A further step in standardisation was the Korean Standard Nuclear Plant (KSNP), which from 1984 brought in some further CE System 80 features and incorporated many of the US Advanced Light Water Reactor design requirements. It is the type used for all further 1000 MWe units as well as the two under construction in North Korea.

In the late 1990s, to meet evolving requirements, a program to produce an Improved KSNP, or KSNP+, was started. This involved design improvement of many components, improved safety and economic competitiveness, and optimising plant layout with streamlining of construction programs to reduce capital cost. Shin-Kori 1&2 will represent the first units of the KSNP+ Program. This Generation II design is being offered for export as the Optimised Power Reactor – OPR-1000.

Beyond this, the Generation III Advanced Pressurised Reactor-1400 draws on CE System 80+ innovations, which are evolutionary rather than radical. The System 80+ has US Nuclear Regulatory Commission design certification as a third-generation reactor. The APR-1400 was originally known as the Korean Next-Generation Reactor when work started on the project in 1992. The basic design was completed in 1999 and design certification by the Korean Institute of Nuclear Safety was awarded in May 2003. It offers enhanced safety with seismic design to withstand 300 Gal ground acceleration, and has a 60-year design life. It is 1455 MWe gross in Korean conditions according to IAEA status report, 1350-1400 MWe net with 2-loop primary circuit. In a warm climate such as UAE, gross power is about 1400 MWe. Cost is expected to be 10-20% less than KSNP/OPR-1000. The first APR-1400 units – Shin-Kori 3&4 – are under construction, and operation is expected in 2013 and 2014. A 48-month construction period is envisaged. Korea Power Engineering Company (KOPEC) is the main designer, and Doosan the main manufacturer. In June 2010 it signed a $3.9 billion contract to supply heavy reactor components and turbines to KEPCO for four APR1400 reactors in UAE.

KHNP decided not to renew its reactor technology licence agreement with Westinghouse in 2007 but to embark upon a business cooperation agreement instead, whereby KHNP would join with Westinghouse in marketing jointly-developed technology while KHNP completes the development of its own components to replace those, eg in the APR1400, dependent on the licensing. This led into a KHNP $200 million program to develop an exportable advanced APR+ large (1500 MWe net) reactor design by 2015, though Westinghouse is not likely to let it compete in main markets such as USA and China without KEPCO buying the rights to the design. However, securing the $20.4 billion contract to build four APR-1400 reactors in UAE is a major boost for KEPCO. Moving on from that, KOPEC is developing an APR1400-EUR for the European market, specifically Finland. This will have double containment, core-catcher and extra safety train.

KHNP’s 1500 MWe APR+ gained design approval from NSSC in August 2014. It was “developed with original domestic technology”, up to 100% localized, over the seven years since 2007, with export markets in view. It has modular construction which is expected to give 36-month construction time instead of 52 months for APR1400. It has 16 more fuel assemblies than APR1400, of a new design, and passive decay heat removal. Also it is more highly reinforced against aircraft impact than any earlier designs.

Early in 2010 KEPCO announced that it was designing an APR1000 as a Generation III type, based on the OPR-1000 but incorporating APR performance and safety features and with 60-year operating life. Basic design was due to be finished in August 2011, but there is no schedule for detailed design. The APR-1000 was intended for overseas markets, notably Middle East and Southeast Asia, and will be able to operate with an ultimate heat sink of 40°C, instead of 35°C for the OPR-1000. Improved safety and performance would raise the capital cost above that of the OPR, but it this would be offset by reduced construction time (40 months instead of 46) due to modular construction.

KEPCO signed an agreement with Indonesia's PT Medco Energi Internasional, an independent power producer, in 2007 to conduct a feasibility study – with KHNP – for Indonesia's first nuclear power plant. This would probably be one or more OPR-1000 units.

KEPCO and Doosan were reported to be offering Jordan their OPR-1000 nuclear reactor. However, the OPR is designed for 200 Gal seismic acceleration and would need to be upgraded to at least 300 Gal for Jordan and Turkey. Jordan then considered the APR-1400, but did not proceed with it.

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) has been developing the SMART (System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactor) – a 330 MWt pressurised water reactor with integral steam generators and advanced passive safety features. It is designed for generating electricity (up to 100 MWe) and/or thermal applications such as seawater desalination. Design life is 60 years, with a 3-year refuelling cycle. While the basic design is complete, the absence of any orders for an initial reference unit has stalled development. KAERI has licensed the design and plans to build a 90 MWe demonstration plant to operate from 2017. In mid-2010 a consortium of 13 South Korean companies led by Kepco pledged 100 billion won ($ 83 million) to complete the design work. US-based engineering company URS is providing technical services to KAERI. Cost is expected to be about $5000/kW.

KAERI has designed an integrated desalination plant based on the SMART reactor to produce 40,000 m3/day of water and 90 MWe at less than the cost of gas turbine. The first of these was envisaged for Madura Island, Indonesia.

Fuel cycle

South Korea has had an open fuel cycle, without enrichment or reprocessing, due to the terms of its 1973 nuclear cooperation agreement with the USA, which is due to be renewed in 2014. In recent years diplomatic efforts have sought to remove these constraints so as to get some 30% more energy from imported uranium and reduce the amount of high-level wastes. Reprocessing is the main issue, but recent reports suggest that a Korean enrichment plant under international control is a possibility, with reprocessing being done in a third country such as Japan. Both questions are sensitive due to US efforts to constrain North Korea’s nuclear activities. In April 2013, with little progress being made on South Korea’s agenda, a two-year extension of the existing arrangements was agreed, to March 2016, and this was confirmed by US Congress in January 2014. The US State Department referred to "several complex technical issues" being unresolved, but did not elaborate.

Uranium for fuel comes from Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia, Niger and elsewhere – 4500 tU being required in 2011, and 8900 tU being anticipated demand in 2020. KEPCO, KNFC, Hanwha and KHNP are together becoming involved with uranium exploration in Canada. The state-owned Korea Resources Corporation (KORES) has declared an intention to invest heavily in uranium and copper mines in Africa and South America. In December 2009 KEPCO agreed to take a 20% interest in the Imouraren operating company in Niger, along with 10% of the product – expected to be 500 tU/yr over 35 years. The figure of US$ 360 million in uranium projects to 2026 has been mentioned. KEPCO also owns 17% of Denison Mines and is entitled to 20% of its product.

Korea had no known and quantified uranium resources, though Perth-based Stonehenge Metals has acquired Chong Ma Mines Inc which holds the rights to the Daejon uranium deposit, identified by the Korean Institute of Energy and Resources (KIER) in a 1986 report. A JORC-compliant inferred resource of 25,000 tU at 0.027%U was announced in 2011. Uranium mining is now planned from 2015, and test work on recovering vanadium by-product is proceeding. The Korean Resources Corporation (KORES), which discovered Daejon in 1979, holds the adjoining Gumsan deposit along strike to the south from Daejon. Stonehenge has two other deposits further north in the same Ogchon geological formation: Miwon and Gwesan.

In 2006 enrichment demand was 1.8 million SWU, supplied from overseas. Tenex, Urenco and USEC have previously supplied this, but in mid 2007 KHNP signed a long-term (10+ years) EUR 1 billion contract with Areva NC for enrichment services at the new Georges Besse II plant in France. Then in mid 2009 it took a 2.5% equity stake in the plant.

KAERI has developed both PWR and Candu fuel technology. It and KEPCO Nuclear Fuel Company (KNFC) have supplied PWR fuel since 1990 and Candu PHWR fuel (unenriched) since 1987. KNFC has capacity of 700 t/yr for PWR fuel and 700 t/yr for Candu PHWR fuel, and supplies all KHNP's needs. From 2015 KNFC plans to supply HIPER and X-gen design code fuel.

In February 2009 Westinghouse announced that it and KNFC will manufacture control element assemblies for Combustion Engineering-design power reactors in the USA and South Korea. A new joint venture (Westinghouse 55%, KNFC 45%), KW Nuclear Components, will make the elements at KNFC's fuel fabrication facility in Daejeon. The Shin Kori 4 APR-1400 under construction is likely to include the first control elements manufactured by the venture.

Used fuel and Radioactive Waste Management

The Korea Radioactive Waste Management Co. Ltd (KRWM) was set up early in 2009 as an umbrella organisation to resolve South Korea's waste management issues and waste disposition, and particularly to forge a national consensus on high-level wastes. Until then, KHNP had been responsible for managing all its radioactive wastes. In October 2013 a Public Engagement Commission of 13 nuclear experts, professors, city council members and an official from a private environmental watchdog was formally set up to take account of public opinion on spent nuclear fuel issues and feed into policy decisions.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1988 established a 'polluter pays' principle under which KHNP was levied a fee based on power generated. A fee was also levied on KNFC. The fees were collected by MEST and paid into a national Nuclear Waste Management Fund. A revised waste program was drawn up by the Nuclear Environment Technology Institute (NETEC) and approved by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1998. These arrangements are superseded by KRWM, and KHNP now contributes a fee of 900,000 won (US$ 705) per kilogram of used fuel to KRWM.

Used fuel is stored on the reactor site pending construction of a centralised interim storage facility which is planned to be operational by 2024, eventually with 20,000 tonne capacity. About 13,250 tonnes was stored at the end of 2013, onsite pool capacity being 12,000 t, about half of both figures being for Candu fuel at Wolsong. About 6000 t was stored at end of 2002. Dry storage is used for Candu fuel after six years cooling. It is also proposed for other used fuel as pools at reactors reach capacity, notably Kori and Hanul/Ulchin. The new Public Engagement Commission is due to produce a report about the end of 2014. Long-term, deep geological disposal is envisaged, though whether this is for used fuel as such or simply separated high-level wastes depends on national policy.

Reprocessing, either domestic or overseas, is not possible under constraints imposed by the country's cooperation agreement with the USA which now expires in March 2016. However this is being appealed in the renegotiations. KHNP has considered offshore reprocessing to be too expensive, and recent figures based on Japanese contracts with Areva in France support this view, largely due to transport costs. A public consultation on storage of used fuel pending disposal was announced in November 2012, since at-reactor storage was reported to be already 71% full.

Low and intermediate-level wastes (LILW) have also been stored at each reactor site, the total being about 60,000 drums of 200 litres. Volume reduction (drying, compaction) is undertaken at each site. A 200 ha central disposal repository at Gyeongju is now being built for all this. It is on schedule.

NETEC took over the task of finding repository sites after several abortive attempts by KAERI and MEST 1988-96. In 2000 it called for local communities to volunteer to host a disposal facility. Seven did so, including Yonggwang county in South Jeolla province with 44% citizen support, but in 2001 all local governments vetoed the proposal. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry & Energy (now the Ministry of Knowledge Economy – MKE) then in 2003 selected four sites for detailed consideration and preliminary environmental review with a view to negotiating acceptance with local governments from 2004. Buan, in North Jeolla province was reported to be favoured.

The area selected for the LILW facility will get 300 billion won (US$ 260 million) in community support according to "The Act for Promoting the Radioactive Waste Management Project and Financial Support for the Local Community" 2000. The aim of this is to compensate for the psychological burden on residents, to reward a community participating in an important national project, and to facilitate amicable implementation of radioactive waste management.

In November 2005, after votes in four provincial cities, Kyongju /Gyeonju on the east coast 370 km SE from Seoul was designated as the site. Almost 90% of its voters approved, compared with 67 to 84% in the other contender locations. It is close to Wolsong.

In June 2006 the government announced that the Gyeongju LILW repository would provide shallow geological disposal of conditioned wastes, with vitrification being used on ILW to increase public acceptability. It would have a number of silos and caverns some 80m below the surface, initially with capacity for 100,000 drums. Construction started in April 2008. Further 700,000 drum capacity would be built later, total cost amounting to US$ 1.15 billion. As well as the initial US$ 260 million grant, annual fees will be paid to the local community.

In December 2010 KRWM commenced limited operation of the Gyeongju facility, accepting the first 1000 drums of wastes there from the Ulchin plant. These have been held in outdoor storage pending commissioning of the underground repository itself. About nine such shipments are expected annually. The site covers 2.1 sq km. The central repository was completed on schedule in June 2014, at a cost of $1.53 billion, but licensing has been delayed to the end of 2014.

Regulation and safety, organisations

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) is the highest decision-making body for nuclear energy policy and is chaired by the Prime Minister. It was set up under the Atomic Energy Act.

The high-level Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) chaired by the Minister of Education, Science & Technology was responsible for nuclear safety regulation until 2011. It was independent of the AEC and was set up by amendment of the Atomic Energy Act in 1996. The regulatory framework is largely modelled on the US NRC.

The government launched the new Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) in October 2011. It is the new independent regulator, reporting to the president, and its chairman has ministerial rank. The Korean Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS), formerly the expert safety regulator under MEST, became a technical support organisation under it, while MEST simply promoted nuclear power. The NSSC's scope covers licensing, inspection, enforcement, incident response and emergency response, non-proliferation and safeguards, export/import control and physical protection. In 2012 the NSSC signed an agreement with its Canadian counterpart (CNSC) to strengthen cooperation.

In December 2013 the NSSC agreed with Japan and China regulators to form a network to cooperate on nuclear safety and quickly exchange information in nuclear emergencies.

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), responsible for R&D, comes under the Korea Research Council of Public Science & Technology (KORP).

The Technology Centre for Nuclear Control, responsible for nuclear material accounting and the international safeguards regime, was transferred from KAERI to KINS at the end of 2004 and was then replaced by the National Nuclear Management and Control Agency (NNCA). In June 2006 this was replaced by the Korean Institute of Nuclear Non-proliferation and Control (KINAC), with greater independence, under MEST. However this role has now apparently been transferred to NSSC.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE, formerly Ministry of Knowledge Economy 2008-2013) is responsible for energy policy, for the construction and operation of nuclear power plants, nuclear fuel supply and radioactive waste management. KEPCO, KHNP, KNFC, NETEC and heavy engineering operations come under MOTIE, and KEPCO seems to have a controlling role re the others. The Korea Nuclear Energy Foundation (KNEF) is a public information body also under MOTIE.

The Ministry of Education, Science & Technology (MEST) had overall responsibility for nuclear R&D, nuclear safety and nuclear safeguards. Having been joined to it in 2008, in 2013 the Ministry of Education was split from this, and the remnant became the Ministry for Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP).

After the Fukushima accident there was immediate assessment of each site followed by a special ministerial safety review of all plants (with special attention to Kori 1) and then IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service check of the whole South Korean situation. A number of measures were initiated: the coastal barrier at Kori 1 was raised to 10m, watertight doors were fitted to emergency diesel generator buildings, battery power supplies were secured form possibility of flooding, a vehicle with portable diesel generator was situated at each site, pumps were waterproofed, passive hydrogen removal systems not dependent on electricity were installed, exhaust and decompression equipment was improved, and the seismic performance of automatic shutdown and cooling systems was improved. All this represents an investment of about US$ 1 billion over five years.

In 2012 KHNP discovered that it had been supplied with falsely-certified non-safety-critical parts for at least five power reactors. The utility told the ministry that eight unnamed suppliers – reportedly seven domestic companies and one US company – forged some 60 quality control certificates covering 7682 components delivered between 2003 and 2012. The majority of the parts were installed at Hanbit (Yonggwang) units 5 and 6, while the rest were used at Hanbit units 3 and 4 and Hanul (Ulchin) unit 3. Hanbit units were taken offline while the parts were replaced.

Then in May 2013 safety-related control cabling with falsified documentation was found to have been installed at four reactors. The NSSC ordered KHNP immediately to stop operation of its Shin Kori 2 and Shin Wolsong 1 units and to keep Shin Kori 1, which has been offline for scheduled maintenance, shut down. In addition, the newly-constructed Shin Wolsong 2, which is awaiting approval to start commercial operation, could not start up. All would remain closed until the cabling has been replaced, which was expected to take about four months. Shin Kori 1&2 and Shin Wolsong 1 were cleared to restart in January 2014. Construction of Shin Kori 3&4 was delayed, possibly to 2015 and 2016, due to the need to replace control cabling which failed tests. In October 2013 about 100 people were indicted for their part in the falsification of documentation.

The Korea Nuclear Association (KNA) was set up in 2011 as an industry association linking Kepco with suppliers and contractors, and is supported by the MOTIE. The Korea Atomic Industry Forum (KAIF) is supported by MOTIE, and is domestic-focussed.

R&D

The main roles of nuclear R&D are to ensure that the national energy supply is secure, and to build the country's nuclear technology base to support nuclear exports. The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) is the main body responsible for R&D. Particular goals established in 1997 include reactor design and nuclear fuel, nuclear safety, radioactive waste management, radiation and radioisotopes application, and basic technology research. The last, taking 27% of the funds, includes: development of liquid metal reactors, direct use of spent PWR fuel In Candu reactors (DUPIC), application of lasers, and research reactor utilisation.

DUPIC

KAERI's DUPIC program is the subject of South Korea's national case study for the IAEA's INPRO project, evaluating new fuel cycle technologies. It involves taking used fuel from light water reactors such as PWRs, crushing it, heating it in oxygen to drive off some 40% of the fission products, and re-forming it into PHWR fuel. It still contains all the actinides including about 1% plutonium, and about 96% uranium including approx 1% U-235. So the fissile content is about 1.5%, more than double that of natural uranium usually used for today's PHWRs. DUPIC research has been supported by Canada and is described more fully in the Processing Used Nuclear Fuel paper.

ACP, pyroprocessing

The other major research initiative by KAERI related to used fuel is an advanced spent fuel conditioning processACP. Development of this process involves substantial US-South Korean nuclear cooperation, since the USA effectively controls what is done with the country's used fuel, and will be central to the renewal of the US-ROK agreement due in 2016. Much of the R&D has been done in the USA, based on earlier US work in 1970s, but paid for by KAERI. However, the US government then suspended this. South Korea has declined an approach from China to cooperate on electrolytic reprocessing, and it has been rebuffed by Japan's CRIEPI due to government policy.

The US Department of Energy included in its 2008 budget funding for pyroprocessing R&D. This is significant in that the USA had strongly discouraged reprocessing in Korea previously. But after the USA announced its Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) early in 2006, the S. Korean government pressed it to include KAERI's R&D in GNEP, including particularly ACP. The DOE funding request for KAERI links pyroprocessing research to GNEP (now IFNEC), while US DOE laboratories work with KAERI staff on ACP.

Using electrometallurgical pyroprocessing to close the fuel cycle with oxide fuels however requires them to be reduced to the metal on a commercial basis. It involves heating the pulverised used fuel to drive off volatile fission products and then reducing it to metal. This is put into a bath of molten lithium and potassium chloride, and uranium is recovered electrolytically. The remaining tranuranics (Pu, Np, Am, Cm) are concentrated and removed with the remaining fission products (notably cerium, neodymium & lanthanum) to be fabricated into fast reactor fuel without any further treatment. This is intrinsically proliferation-resistant because it is so hot radiologically, and the curium provides a high level of spontaneous neutrons. Also it recycles about 95% of the used fuel.

In 2008 IAEA approved an electrorefining laboratory – the Advanced Spent Fuel Conditioning Process Facility (ACPF) at KAERI, which was built in the basement of the Irradiated Materials Experiment Facility (IMEF) for laboratory-scale demonstration of ACP. This is envisaged as the first stage of a Korea Advanced Pyroprocessing Facility (KAPF) to start experimentally in 2016 and become a commercial-scale demonstration plant in 2025. In connection with renewal of the US-ROK agreement in or by 2016, discussions are proceeding on pyroprocessing.

Fast reactors

Closely related to this, and designed to be fueled by the product of it, KAERI has proposed development of a pool-type sodium-cooled fast reactor which will operate in burner (not breeder) mode. This was supported by the USA in connection with GNEP/IFNEC and a Korean prototype Generation IV sodium-cooled fast reactor (PGSFR) is planned for 2028. Building on decades of cooperation already, a formal agreement with the US Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) was signed in August 2014 to progress this towards NSSC licensing approval by 2020 and commissioning by the end of 2028. The prototype would produce 150 MWe for the grid, but its main purpose would be to demonstrate its fuel: PGSFR is to use metal fuel pins composed of low-enriched uranium and zirconium, and it can be subsequently reloaded with fuel that also contains transuranic elements recovered from reprocessing used oxide fuels. Argonne said that "the metal fuel technology base was developed at Argonne in the 1980s and 1990s; its inherent safety potential was demonstrated in the landmark tests conducted on the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) in April 1986. They demonstrated the safe shutdown and cooling of the reactor without operator action following a simulated loss-of-cooling accident... The PGSFR is the world's first fast reactor that exploits inherent safety characteristics to prevent severe accidents."

KALIMER (Korea Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor) is a 600 MWe pool type sodium-cooled fast reactor designed since 1992 to operate at 510ºC. A transmuter core consisting of uranium and transuranics in metal form from pyro-processing is being designed, and no breeding blanket is involved. Future deployment of KALIMER as a Generation IV type is envisaged.

Another stream of fast reactor development is via the Nuclear Transmutation Energy Research Centre of Korea (NuTrECK) at Seoul University (SNU), drawing on Russian experience. It is working on lead-bismuth cooled designs of 35, 300 and 550 MW which would operate on pyro-processed fuel. The 35 MW unit is designed to be leased for 20 years and operated without refuelling, and then returned to the supplier. It would be refuelled at the pyro-processing plant and have a design life of 60 years.

As well as the fast reactor means of burning actinides, KAERI is researching HYPER (Hybrid Power Extraction Reactor), a kind of subcritical reactor which will be activated by a proton accelerator.

Research reactors

KAERI has constructed 30 MW thermal research reactor based on the Canadian Maple design called HANARO, which started up in 1995. In contrast to Canada's experience with Maple, this apparently works very well. It is the basis of the JRTR being designed for and built in Jordan, the contract being signed in March 2010. It will be 5 MW with potential to upgrade to 10 MW.

In February 2012 MST announced that 20 MW research reactor and radioisotope facility (notably for Mo-99) would be built in Busan by 2016, with the 290 billion won ($259 million) project partly funded by Busan. The justification includes export of radioisotopes.

VHTR and hydrogen

KAERI has also submitted a Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) design to the Generation IV International Forum with a view to hydrogen production from it. This is envisaged as 300 MWt modules operating at 950ºC each producing 30,000 tonnes of hydrogen per year. KAERI expects the engineering design to be completed in 2014, construction start 2016 and operation in 2020. An agreement with steelmaker Posco envisages using the VHTR for smelting iron.

In 2005 KAERI embarked upon a US$ 1 billion R&D and demonstration program aiming to produce commercial hydrogen using nuclear heat around 2020. KAERI has close links on hydrogen with the Institute of Nuclear & New Energy Technology (INET) at Tsinghua University in China, based on China's HTR-10 reactor, and is forming other links with its counterpart in Japan. In 2005 it set up a South Korea-US Nuclear Hydrogen Joint Development Center involving General Atomics.

It plans to develop the sulfur-iodine (SI) process for hydrogen production while also developing high-temperature reactors and the alloys enabling them to be used with heat exchangers for chemical plants. Prototype SI hydrogen production is expected about 2011, followed by a pilot plant in 2016, which will then be connected to a high-temperature reactor. Which type of reactor will be decided in 2006.

Fusion

Beyond fission, KSTAR (Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) was launched in December 1995 and began operating in September 2007 at Daejeon. The US$ 330 million facility is the world's eight fusion device and will be a major contribution to world fusion research, contributing to the ITER project taking shape in France.

Non-proliferation

South Korea is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state. Its safeguards agreement under the NPT came into force in 1975 and it has signed the Additional Protocol in relation to this.

North Korea

In the 1990s there was a proposal to build two South Korean KSNP reactors at Kumho in North Korea, paid for by international subscription. The project was aborted. See: North Korea section at end of Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries paper for details.

References:
Country Nuclear Power Profiles, IAEA, 1998, p.331-346.
OECD/IEA 1994 Energy Policies of the Republic of Korea
Westinghouse World View, August 2002, Korea's Nuclear Strategy.
Chung, Bum-Chin, 2001, Growth in Korean Nuclear Activity, The Nuclear Engineer 42,3.
KHNP Trust 2002 and web site.
Song, M-J. 2003, Radioactive Waste Management and Disposal in Korea, KAIF/KNS conference.
Hong J-H 2006, Status and plans for nuclear power in Korea, WNFC conference April 2006.
Presentation at WNU Summer Institute, Cheongju, August 2007.
Korea Atomic industrial Forum, 2008, Nuclear Industry in the Republic of Korea.
IAEA status report 83 – APR1400
Yoo Yunbaek, Nuclear Power Policy of Korea, World Nuclear Association Symposium 2014.