Some of Korea’s Largest Conglomerates to Build Small-Scale Nuclear Power Plants in Asia

Samsung and two other Korean conglomerates have signed an agreement with US-based NuScale to build small-scale modular nuclear reactors known as SMRs in Asia as demand for clean energy grows globally.

NuScale and Samsung C&T, the construction and trading arm of Samsung Group, along with units from the Korean conglomerates Doosan Group and GS Group, will explore the deployment of NuScale’s SMR power plants. “This announcement is a critical next step in bringing NuScale’s clean energy solution to Asia,” NuScale said in a statement.

“With this MOU, great progress is expected to be made in the development of SMR business through stronger collaboration between NuScale and Korean strategic investors,” Byungsoo Lee, vice president at Samsung C&T, said in the statement. “I think SMRs will play an important role in responding to decarbonization demand and climate change.”

The deal was announced after Yoon Suk-yeol was elected president of South Korea in March. Yoon, who took office on May 10, has pledged to embrace nuclear power to accelerate South Korea’s goal of cutting emissions.

Samsung C&T, the de facto holding company of billionaire Jay Y. Lee’s Samsung conglomerate, began investing alongside NuScale in 2019, followed by increased collaboration last year.

Samsung, Doosan and GS Energy will advise NuScale on component manufacturing, plant construction and plant operation, the statement said. NuScale probably expects Samsung C&T to “build these things efficiently,” said Todd Allen, chair and professor of the division of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the University of Michigan.

NuScale probably expects to build factories that are faster and cheaper to build than current nuclear power plants, said Charles Mason, a professor of petroleum and natural gas economics in the department of economics and finance at the University of Wyoming. NuScale specializes in ‘small modular reactors’, he notes.

Building modular reactors could take less than a year and cost “scores of millions of dollars” rather than billions, Mason estimates.

“Usual [nuclear] factories are often very expensive, take a long time to build and because of those things they are chronically plagued with cost overruns,” notes Mason. He believes parts of the world that are phasing out coal-fired power might consider modular nuclear power plants instead of traditional ones. “I think there’s a real future for some places behind modular reactors,” he says.

Sites in the US have begun investigating whether to install the smaller reactor, Allen notes, and sites in Asia could do the same. China works alone.

The global nuclear power plant and equipment industry generated $41 billion in 2020 and should reach $58 billion by 2030, Allied Market Research said in February. The market research firm points to an increase in energy demand amid the “condition for cleaner power generation” as the reason for the expected growth.

But the future of these plants depends on regulatory approval, meaning any implementation could take five to 10 years, Allen notes. “NuScale has a lot of memoranda of understanding, but we don’t know if it’s going to work yet,” he says.

Allen notes that no one is a global leader in SMRs, and NuScale is trying to get regulatory approval first.

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