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Establishing Korea as a Nuclear Powerhouse images

Although Korea only recently succeeded in exporting her first nuclear power plants (NPPs), it should not be assumed that the country is new to the nuclear game. A member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1957, domestic operation of NPPs goes back to 1978 when Korea’s first plant - Kori 1 - came online. Today, a total of 21 NPPs have been built around the country, the sum of which provide Korea with 18,716MW of power, accounting for nearly 23.9 percent of her total energy capacity and 31 percent of total electricity consumption. The Korean government expects this number to increase to 60 percent by 2035, with the additional nuclear reactors currently under construction and 10 more in the pipeline destined to make this possible.

Following the start of commercial operation at Kori 1, eight more reactors were under construction by the early 1980s. Korea’s early pressurized water reactors (PWRs) were based on Westinghouse, AECL and Framatome technology while later, the country succeeded in seeing its Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP) become a recognized design.

Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear energy at this time was unique in that a basic moratorium on additional construction of NPPs followed the March 28, 1979 accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island power plant. As an illustration, the number of reactors under construction in the United States declined every year from 1980-1998, while during the period of 1980-1984, 51 orders for American nuclear reactors were cancelled outright. Korea’s drive to become a nuclear powerhouse was neither halted nor even slowed following the Chernobyl accident of 1986, a tragic event after which all new-build NPP projects in Europe and the United States were ceased.

By 2010 the capacity factor for Korean reactors stood at 90.7 percent, the world’s highest, a level at which it remains today. At the time, the global average was a mere 82 percent. Further evidence of the capability of the Korean nuclear power machine was the country’s three-year average unplanned capability loss of 0.3 for the years 2008-2010. As of 2010, the global average was 5.7 percent according to the IAEA.

Construction of the first two of Korea’s home-grown Generation III APR1400 reactors Shin-Kori 3 & 4 was authorized the following year, with the first concrete on Unit 3 being poured in October 2008. The APR1400 was selected by the UAE to serve as the basis of the Emirates’ budding nuclear energy program. Shin-Kori Units 3&4 serves as the reference plant for the reactors under construction in the UAE.