The South Korean government vowed Tuesday to support local companies' bids to export nuclear reactors overseas, in a move to ease concerns that its nuclear phase-out plan could adversely affect efforts to new secure contracts.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy held a meeting with state-run utilities, construction companies and local banks to discuss global market strategy and financial package programs, with an emphasis on upcoming nuclear power projects in Britain, the Czech Republic and Saudi Arabia.
The government's pledge for continued support aims to address concerns that Seoul's change of policy from nuclear power to renewable energy could burden local industry's overseas marketing efforts in the face of fiercer competition from Chinese and Russian companies that are getting full-fledged support from their governments.
"The government's energy policy was designed in consideration of the special domestic situation because several reactors have been built in one place and may be vulnerable to earthquake risks," Energy Minister Paik Un-gyu said during the meeting. "We will carefully look into the profitability and risks (of overseas nuclear projects) to provide active support for nuclear exports in a way that boosts national interests."
Industry insiders have expressed worries that less enthusiasm for nuclear power could shrink investment in advanced nuclear technologies and give South Korea less bargaining power on the global stage.
The ministry said it will seek ways to expand energy cooperation in countries set to launch new nuclear programs to help the local industry's export bid.
"The nuclear export is part of efforts to complement the domestic nuclear industry in light of the changing energy policy," Paik said. "It would also provide opportunities for the local industry to utilize accumulated know-how in the field."
The policymaker said the government will take a two-track approach to nuclear power policy, like the United States, France and Japan, which have been shifting their focus from their home turf to the global market.
"Countries that are reducing their reliance on nuclear power are taking a different track when it comes to the export of nuclear reactors," Paik said, noting France's push to decrease the ratio of nuclear power from 75 percent to 50 percent of total power generation systems.
The latest move comes as several lucrative projects are on the horizon, drawing keen interest from major players.
Saudi Arabia is set to announce a plan to build two nuclear reactors to reduce its reliance on oil.
The upcoming project is seen by South Korea as a second chance to get involved in plans for nuclear power in the Middle East, following a US$20-billion contract in 2009 to build four reactors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The state-run Korea Electric Corp. has also been in talks to buy a stake in the Toshiba-Engie British joint nuclear venture NuGen, which has run into major financial difficulties. A Beijing-controlled company is also in the running for the deal estimated at around $20 billion.
KEPCO CEO Cho Hwan-ik will visit Britain later this month to continue discussions on its nuclear power plant project, the company said.
In eastern Europe, Seoul has been reaching out to the Czech Republic, which is interested in building its first nuclear power plant in the coming years. A Czech delegation visited Seoul on Tuesday to meet with senior ministry officials and to inspect local facilities on the southeastern coast, the ministry said.
Since taking office in May, President Moon Jae-in has scrapped plans for new nuclear power plants and vowed not to extend the life cycles of 24 existing reactors, in a bid to end decades of reliance on the controversial energy source.