South Korea has approved a $7bn (£4.22bn) investment into two new nuclear power plants despite the recent struggle to secure safety and operational continuity of the country’s existing installations.
The project, announced on Monday, is the first South Korea’s nuclear undertaking since a major policy review that followed a safety scandal involving fake security certificates.
The new plants, approved on Wednesday, will be built in addition to five nuclear stations already under construction and another four planned, including one that will be completed in July this year.
The power plants will have 1,400-megawatt capacity each, and are expected to go online by the end of 2020.
Both plants will be built by a consortium led by the state-run Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), who operates all South Korea’s nuclear installations.
Doosan Heavy, Samsung C&T, Hyundai Engineering & Construction and Toshiba-owned Westinghouse Electric will take part in the project.
South Korea is the world’s fifth biggest nuclear energy producer. Having mostly developed its resources and facilities independently, the country has the ambition to get its share of the international nuclear technology market, which is currently dominated by the USA, Russia and France.
Currently, South Korea operates 23 nuclear reactors, which generate about a third of its electricity, and plans to double its nuclear energy generation capacity by building at least 16 new power plants.
However, international pressure has increased on the country to cut its nuclear energy dependency following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The concerns were further stirred by a series of safety shortcomings and shutdowns that culminated with the fake safety certificate scandal.
Only two weeks ago, South Korea pledged to reduce its nuclear dependency by 2035 to 29 per cent of its total supply down from 41 per cent foreseen in 2030.
Nevertheless, a possible future move away from nuclear power would require extensive investment into extra fossil fuel imports.
Since 2012, South Korea’s nuclear energy sector has been plagued by a series of safety-related issues and shut-downs, decreasing the country’s energy margin. Concerns were raised about the high probability of blackouts during this winter as the country’s power hungry industry relying on car, steel and electronics manufacturing would put too much strain on the delicate energy infrastructure.
On Wednesday, South Korea shut down one nuclear power plant due to a technical glitch, taking the number of reactors closed to four and increasing the risk of power shortages over winter