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New public-private alliance formed to boost Korea’s SMR competitiveness

July 4, 2023 - 15:56 By Jie Ye-eun
Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Lee Chang-yang (eigth from left, front row), SK Inc. CEO and Vice Chairman Jang Dong-hyun (ninth from left, front row) and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power President and CEO Whang Joo-ho pose for a photo at the SMR alliance's inauguration ceremony, held in a Seoul hotel on Tuesday. (Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy)

Government agencies and major companies in South Korea gathered Tuesday to form an alliance to secure the country’s global leadership in the small modular reactor, or SMR, market.

An SMR is a small-sized reactor that can produce 300 megawatts of electricity, integrating major equipment like a steam generator and coolant pump into a containment unit. It is considered a game changer in the energy sector for carbon neutrality and as an eco-friendly energy source.

The SMR alliance comprises 11 key government bodies and public institutions, including the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power and Korea Energy Economics Institute, and 31 local companies, including SK Inc., Samsung C&T and Daewoo E&C.

“We’ll promote the quantitative and qualitative growth of the Korean nuclear power industry while the competition to preoccupy the SMR market leadership is intensifying globally,” Industry Minister Lee Chang-yang said in his keynote speech during the alliance's inauguration ceremony held earlier in the day in Seoul.

The minister asked the public and private sectors to join forces to respond to the changes brought about by the SMRs. “Companies should prepare business plans that the people can trust and the government should spare no support for policies to foster the SMR industry,” he added.

Citing data from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the ministry also highlighted SMRs’ various advantages in terms of flexibility, safety, location and economic feasibility due to their nature design.

“SMRs display an enhanced safety performance through passive safety features. Given their smaller footprint, they offer options for remote regions with less infrastructure. They are more affordable to build than large power reactors. SMRs can be deployed incrementally to match increasing energy demand,” the ministry explained.

SK Inc., the investment arm of SK Group, is the first firm to chair the alliance.

Last October, SK Inc. and SK Innovation jointly invested $250 million in Bill Gates’ small nuclear power reactor developer firm TerraPower to cut down global carbon emissions and build up the group’s green energy portfolio.

The two SK affiliates, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power and TerraPower, also signed a quadripartite cooperation contract for the development and commercialization of next-generation nuclear power plant technology in April this year.

“The private sector, the government and public institutions came together to take a meaningful first step,” SK Inc. CEO and Vice Chairman Jang Dong-hyun said. “We’ll secure global leadership by gathering strength in various fields such as supply chain, system and finance, while publicizing the safety of SMRs.”

The SMR alliance aims to strengthen the capabilities of both the public and private sectors to enhance national competitiveness in the SMR market by establishing strategies for the development of SMR utilization business and the creation of an institutional foundation.

Under the public-private partnership, the SMR alliance plans to prepare suggestions for business models and institutional improvements by the first half of next year. It also looks to promote the launch of the SMR association and actively support the creation of the SMR ecosystem from the first half of next year.