The U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks in Berlin have been deadlocked largely due the North's persistent rejection of the ROK's offer to play the central role in financing and building a nuclear power plant there that would incorporate light-water reactors designed and manufactured by ROK companies. Pyongyang cited the "unproven safety and performance characteristics" of South Korean reactors as the major reason for its objection. The following information about the Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP) which will serve as the model for the proposed North Korean power plant is based on information provided by the ROK Ministry of Science and Technology and other relevant organizations.
In October 1994, the United States and North Korea signed in Geneva a framework agreement to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Its main provisions were that the North would freeze and eventually dismantle its existing suspect nuclear program, including the 50 MW and 200 MW graphite-moderated reactors under construction, as well as its existing 5 MW reactor and nuclear fuel reprocessing facility. In return, Pyongyang would be provided with two 1,000 MW light-water nuclear reactors, which would be safer and would produce much less plutonium (the key material for atomic weapons), in order to help boost the supply of electricity in the North, which is now in a critical shortage.
In Geneva, both sides reached a tacit understanding that the Republic of Korea would play the central role in financing and supplying the new reactors in question. The ROK had offered to take on the major responsibility for the agreed nuclear power plant project. As a matter of fact, no other country was willing to incur the heavy financial burden of such a role. The aim of the ROK was to contribute to the peace and security of this part of the world by resolving the nuclear threat from the North, while also promoting reconciliation and cooperation between South and North Korea.
All the same, Pyongyang's stubborn opposition to the South's central role in the nuclear power project has deadlocked the U.S.-North Korean expert-level talks in Berlin aimed at working out the details of the arrangement. The North is dead set against Seoul's offer, obviously for political reasons, even though there is no real alternative. If left unresolved, the impasse could result in the nullification of the landmark Geneva accord, once again heightening international tension over the North Korean nuclear issue.
The South's offer has been to build nuclear power plants modeled after the Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP), a design based on the experience and expertise accumulated through the development of a major nuclear power industry. The history of the ROK nuclear power industry and the salient features of the KSNP will be outlined below to show that the economics and technological characteristics of the KSNP are well suited to the prevailing conditions in Korea.
Nuclear Power Development in the South
As early as the late 1950s, the Republic of Korea took keen interest in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, especially in view of its poor endowment of conventional energy resources. With the aid of Washington under a ROK-U.S. agreement on the peaceful use of atomic energy, ground was broken for a project to install a research nuclear reactor--a TRIGA Mark II model made by the American firm General Atomic--on July 14, 1959. The project was completed on March 18, 1962. It enabled Korean scientists and engineers to study the basic principles of nuclear power generation, while also producing isotopes for medical and other applications.
The nation launched into the full-fledged development of nuclear power production during the early 1970s with the aim of helping to satisfy the ever-increasing power demand arising from the rapid industrialization of the country. In view of its lack of sufficient technological know-how and experience, the country contracted foreign firms to build nuclear power plants on a turn-key basis. The Kori Nuclear Power Plant Units 1 and 2 and Wolsong Unit 1 were built in that way during the 1970s.
Under this arrangement, a foreign company served as the prime contractor to design and supervise the project and supply most of the necessary equipment. Domestic firms took part on a limited basis in the management of the project and the test operation of the completed power plants, as well as in the civil engineering and installation work, to learn the basics of how to do the job. This was regarded as the first phase of nuclear power development in the Republic.
In the second phase, which covered the 1980s, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) began to act as the manager of nuclear power projects based upon the experience and expertise gained during the first phase. KEPCO contracted both foreign and domestic firms on a "component basis" to build Kori Units 3 and 4, Yonggwang Units 1 and 2, and Ulchin Units 1 and 2 during that decade. Under this arrangement, foreign firms were engaged as the prime contractors to furnish the designs and the core equipment and machinery. Korean companies served as subcontractors to manufacture many of the components, thus increasing their local content. The civil engineering was undertaken by domestic firms primarily on their own responsibility, drawing on their experience during the first phase.
In the late 1980s, the nation advanced to the third phase- -a phase of self-reliance in nuclear power technology. Korean firms served as the prime contractors in building Yonggwang Units 3 and 4, Ulchin Units 3 and 4 and Yonggwang Units 5 and 6. Foreign firms participated in these projects as subcontractors to the Korean prime contractors to provide assistance only in the most sophisticated aspects of the necessary technology. Korea thus progressively achieved near- total self-reliance in nuclear power technology, becoming able to design, manufacture and construct nuclear power plants almost on its own.
Building on the experience and expertise thus gained, the nation has now developed the Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP) which is better suited for Korean circumstances than its foreign predecessors. The KSNP design is already being applied to the afore-mentioned Ulchin Units, marking a major milestone in the nation's nuclear power development, as discussed in the following chapter.
The Development of a Standard Nuclear Power Plant
The development the Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP) was begun in 1984 under the Government's plan for "technological self-reliance for nuclear power plants" by promoting domestic research and development. The goal was to develop an optimized design for use in constructing a series of additional nuclear power plants in the country that would feature improved economics and safety standards. In fact, the KSNP design is being applied to Ulchin Units 3 and 4 which are now under construction. They were just over 50 percent complete as of the end of March 1995.
The light-water reactor system for the KSNP has been developed by modifying and improving on the System 80 design installed at Yonggwang Units 3 and 4. The System 80 was designed by Asea Brown Bovery-Combustion Engineering (ABB-CE) of the United States, and its technical excellence and safety has been well-proven over the nine years of its operation at the Palo-Verde nuclear power plant in the United States. Yonggwang Unit 3 went into commercial operation in March 1995.
The modification and improvement work on the System 80 was aimed, first of all, at reducing its generating capacity of 1,300 MW to 1,000 MW in consideration of the nation's total grid size. No less important, the KSNP design was based on the codes and standards of 1989, intended especially to more effectively prevent severe accidents, while System 80 was designed according to the U.S. codes and standards of the mid- 1970s. Accordingly, the KSNP has many up-to-date design features not found in System 80. Furthermore, it has incorporated ergonomic features specifically designed to suit Korean operators who are relatively smaller than their Western counterparts. The non-nuclear parts of the KSNP have been designed entirely by Korean engineers to constitute a balanced and well-functioning whole with the other parts.
Other improvements include the simplification of operational procedures, enhancement of plant economics and increased plant availability, especially by minimizing the downtime needed for maintenance. The Korean engineers fully utilized computer-aided engineering (CAE) in developing the KSNP, and they also independently developed the necessary computer codes needed to develop and verify the final design. The KSNP is thus one of the most advanced and safest nuclear power plants available today.
The KSNP design will be applied to the building of additional nuclear power plants to cope with the surging demand for power as the ROK economy continues to grow. Efforts will be continued to further improve on it through close examination of the Ulchin Units 3 and 4 after they go into actual operation and through continuing research and development. Currently, the ROK's rate of self-reliance in nuclear technology is estimated at 95 percent overall (see chart on the last page). The KSNP has already begun to attract interest from other Asian countries that are also seeking to develop nuclear power generation. This is expected to lead to the exportation of ROK nuclear technology in the near future.
The Best Choice for North Korea
As noted above, the KSNP design is based on state-of-the art technology mastered by the ROK nuclear power industry through more than two decades of experience working with foreign firms combined the nation's own R&D efforts. The KSNP is thus a highly safe, economical and convenient facility that is very suitable to the Korean environment.
And yet, in recent talks with the United States, North Korea has continued to reject the offer to provide Pyongyang with a KSNP-based power generating facility incorporating two light-water reactors. The North Koreans argue that they will only accept reactor models that have actually been exported before and whose performance and safety have been proven.
The fact is, however, that the ROK-designed reactor incorporated into the KSNP is a marked improvement on ABB-CE's System 80 model being used at the Palo-Verde nuclear power plant in the United States whose technical excellence and safety has been well proven over the nine years of its operation. The KSNP design is actually being applied to Ulchin Units 3 and 4 now under construction after having been closely examined by competent ROK government authorities under rigorous regulations. Its safety and performance characteristics have thus been well verified.
All the same, North Korea claims that the KSNP is only a patchwork of foreign technologies and that U.S. companies continue to play the leading role in the construction of KSNP- type Ulchin Units 3 and 4. But the truth is that the prime contractors for these nuclear power generating units are all South Korean firms, which had already designed Yonggwang Units 3 and 4 jointly with their American counterparts and did most of the construction work on their own. They are now thus well- qualified to take the ultimate responsibility for the Ulchin 3 and 4 project based on the KSNP design.
Moreover, the ROK has already transferred nuclear power plant safety evaluation technology to the United States, the initiator of nuclear power generation. It has exported nuclear energy technology to China and Turkey and is now negotiating with China and other Asian countries contracts to build KSNPs there.
By constructing the standard ROK-type nuclear reactors, North Korea would gain the following advantages:
First, the construction cost and time could be reduced substantially by making use of the enormous stock of data on nuclear power plant design and other related matters readily available in the ROK.
Second, by choosing the KSNP, the North Koreans would be able to utilize Korean-language documents on design, construction, operation and maintenance and other related materials. The common language would also make it easier to train the necessary North Korean staff on the spot and at training facilities in the South.
Third, the geographical proximity between South and North Korea would facilitate the timely delivery of equipment and spare parts, the prompt provision of maintenance services and other aspects of the construction and operation.
The ROK is the only country that has offered to play the central role in the contemplated North Korean light-water reactor project, although this would entail a heavy financial burden on its citizens. It is thus only logical for the South to be the supplier of the light-water reactors and related power generating facilities under the Geneva Accord. Indeed, the charter of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), established earlier this year to carry out the North Korean nuclear power project, expressly provides that its purpose is to furnish Pyongyang with "a Korean Standard Nuclear Plant Model."
The ROK's central role in this project is intended to promote intra-Korean reconciliation, interchange and cooperation by dispelling the deadly confrontation and tension on the Korean Peninsula fanned by the North Korean nuclear threat. To this end, it will be necessary, first of all, to resume the long-suspended intra-Korean dialogue, as provided in the Geneva agreement. This would go a long way toward paving the way for eventual peaceful unification in response to the long-cherished yearning of the entire Korean people. Accepting the offer of the KSNP would be in the best interest not only of North Korea but also of the Korean people as a whole.
Rising Self-Reliance in Nuclear Technology
(Figures represent percentage of technology self-reliance) Technology Category Company 1995 Target for Technology Self-Reliance % of Tech. Self-Reliance at the End of 1993 Project Management KEPCO 98 97.7 DESIGN Overall Plant Design Reactor System Design Fuel Design KOPEC KAERI KAERI 95 95 100 92.5 92.2 93.9 Subtotal 95 92.5 M F G Nuclear Equipment Turbines and Generators KHIC KHIC 87 98 84.7 98.0 Subtotal 91 88.7 Manufacture of Nuclear Fuel KNFC 100 92.6 Plant Construction 100 99.4 Total 95 93.0 ABBREVIATIONS USED ABOVE: KEPCO = Korea Electric Power Corporation KOPEC = Korea Power Engineering Co. KAERI = Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute KHIC = Korea Heavy Industry Co. KNFC = Korea Nuclear Fuel Co.
Technology Category Company 1995 Target for Technology Self-Reliance of Tech. Self-Reliance at the End of 1993 Project Management KEPCO 98 97.7 DESIGN Overall Plant Design Reactor System Design Fuel Design KOPEC KAERI KAERI 95 95 100 92.5 92.2 93.9 Subtotal 95 92.5 MFG Nuclear Equipment Turbines and Generators KHIC KHIC 87 98 84.7 98.0 Subtotal 91 88.7 Manufacture of Nuclear Fuel KNFC 100 92.6 Plant Construction 100 99.4 Total 95 93.0 ABBREVIATIONS USED ABOVE: KEPCO = Korea Electric Power Corporation KOPEC = Korea Power Engineering Co. KAERI = Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute KHIC = Korea Heavy Industry Co. KNFC = Korea Nuclear Fuel Co.
NOTE: In calculating the degree of technology self-reliance, the percentage of domestic manpower employed is used as the indicator of self-reliance in project management and design, while the percentage of payment to domestic firms is used as the indicator of self-reliance in plant construction. The data used in calculating the above figures was obtained mostly from the progress report of Yonggwang Units 3 and 4, the record on technology importation and the record on domestic research and development.