South Korea signs deal to develop small modular reactor in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and South Korea have agreed in principle to work on developing a small modular reactor (SMR) in the kingdom using technology developed by the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by Mun Mi-ock, first vice minister of Korea’s Ministry of Science and Khalid bin Saleh Al-Sultan, president of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, during the International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna.

The two sides will now work to refine the reactor, license it for use in Saudi Arabia and build a prototype. They will also promote the design to Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries.

They plan to build a joint nuclear energy research centre in the kingdom by the end of this year.

At the signing, Mun said the MoU would strengthen the partnership between the two countries "as we move to enter the global market for medium-small nuclear reactors".

South Korea brands its SMR technology "SMART", an acronym for System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactor technology. Scientists in the country have been developing it for 22 years.

The pressurised water design is able to generate 100MW, or enough energy to supply a city with a population of 100,000 with 90MW of electricity and 40,000 tonnes of fresh water a day. The unit has a 60-year design life and three-year refuelling cycle.

The agreement is a breakthrough for the programme. The design was approved by Korean regulators in 2012 and it was hoped to build the first example in 2017. However, plans were stalled by the absence of orders.

The two countries have been discussing SMART technology for the past four years. World Nuclear News reports that in 2015 they signed another agreement to jointly promote the reactor in the global market, and have since invested $130m in working up pre-construction designs.

It adds that Korean companies Kepco and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power signed another agreement to develop a project to construct a plant based on SMART in Saudi Arabia in December 2018.

Image: The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute’s sketch of a future Saudi plant

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