(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 1)

Prompted by the recent increase in sales overseas, Korean nuclear plant builders are now witnessing a renaissance. Despite the booming sales of so-called K-reactors, however, concerns are growing over the delayed special bill for the treatment of high-level radioactive waste, now pending at the National Assembly. As a leading nuclear energy state, Korea needs to construct storage facilities for radioactive waste. Among the top 10 nations with nuclear plants, Korea is the only country that has not yet initiated the construction of such facilities for managing spent waste. It is necessary to revitalize the nuclear reactor industry and sharpen the nation's competitiveness as a global nuclear energy power. More Korean companies are signing contracts to construct nuclear power plants overseas. For instance, Hyundai Engineering and Construction (HEC) was recently chosen as the preferred bidder for the construction of a $14 billion nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Hyundai will be in charge of the construction of the second phase of the plant, which will be worth up to 9 trillion won ($6.74 billion). Hyundai's recent signing of this nuclear energy project marks the first of its kind in 15 years, following its securing of the Baraka project in the United Arab Emirates. Notably, Hyundai defeated renowned construction companies such as Bechtel, the largest builder in the United States, among other global contenders. The Yoon Suk Yeol administration has been taking proactive measures to revitalize the nuclear ecosystem and bolster the nation's nuclear reactor industry. In August 2022, Korea Nuclear and Hydro Power (KNHP) struck a deal for the construction of a $2.5 billion nuclear plant in Egypt. Last year, it also struck a deal for a reactor essential for tritium extraction and remodeling purposes. Hyundai's recent contract propelled the nation's exports of nuclear plants to a substantial 14 trillion won. We expect the recent deals to trigger another leap in the domestic nuclear industry, helping to overcome the previo us Moon Jae-in administration's lackluster attitude toward nuclear energy. The world is currently experiencing disruptions in its energy supply channels due to ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. To cope with this, more nations are rushing to construct nuclear power plants. According to data from the World Nuclear Association (WNA), approximately 100 nuclear plants are either under construction or in the planning stages worldwide. Besides this, the market for small module reactors (SMR) has also been growing swiftly, due to their merits in terms of safety and economic feasibility. Korea had been recognized as a leading SMR state by achieving the milestone of acquiring a design certificate for the first time globally. However, due to the non-nuclear policies advocated during the previous Moon administration, the nation has significantly fallen behind other advanced countries in this regard. To prevent the recurrence of such a mishap, it is necessary for both the government and companies to doub le down on efforts to take the lead in the global market. Yoon vowed to provide maximum assistance to support reactor manufacturers, aiming to elevate the industry as a cornerstone of the nation's exports. Additionally, he pledged to invest 4 trillion won over the next five years towards that goal. The responsibility now lies with the National Assembly to act on these pledges and enact necessary policies to support the nuclear industry's revitalization. It should promptly pass the law, thus paving the way for the construction of storage facilities so they can treat the spent nuclear fuel. The National Assembly should heed the appeal made by KNHP President and CEO Whang Joo-ho, who has warned that the nation's high-level radioactive waste facilities will reach full capacity in just six years. "In a worst-case scenario, the nation will have to stop the operation of the nuclear plants," he said during a recent National Assembly committee hearing. Source: Yonhap News Agency