The UK will restart discussions with South Korea over building an atomic power station, potentially providing a much-needed boost for the country’s struggling nuclear industry.
The two nations agreed to jointly push for the construction of atomic reactors through technical meetings and signed a memorandums of understanding to bolster cooperation, South Korea’s energy ministry said Tuesday in a statement. The ministry told Bloomberg News that it’s particularly interested in developing the Wylfa nuclear project off the northwest coast of Wales.
The UK has struggled to finance a renaissance of its nuclear power industry, as it targets building 24 gigawatts of new capacity by 2050. While doubts remain over the government’s ability to green-light enough projects to meet that goal, South Korean funding could help realize those ambitions. The Asian nation has pledged to become a major exporter of nuclear technology.
The resumption of talks come as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol arrives in the UK to launch negotiations on a new Free Trade Agreement, with both he and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak trying to burnish their international credentials ahead of respective general elections. The two nations are set to announce £21 billion of spending by South Korean investors in the UK.
In 2018, the two countries shelved a project to develop a nuclear plant in northwest England, after state-owned utility Korea Electric Power Corp. failed to take over the Moorside project from Toshiba Corp.
The Wylfa site in Wales is one of the top contenders to host a so-called small modular reactor, or SMR, and there was a unsuccessful proposal for a large station by Japanese Hitachi Ltd. Even with what was the most generous nuclear financing deal the UK has ever offered on the table, the project was too expensive. Sunak has called the site one of the best in the UK.
The UK wants to deliver eight new nuclear reactors this decade — needing approval at a pace equivalent to one a year. A financing push is underway to attract funds for Sizewell C, after the government ousted China from a project with Electricite de France SA.
The UK is particularly sensitive about which countries it allows into its nuclear infrastructure. The administration last year took over China General Nuclear Power Corp.’s stake in EDF’s Sizewell project following concerns over national security. Still, being too picky may make it difficult to get investors for the projects that need billions of dollars of spending, and also brings the risk of cost overruns and delays.
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Other planned South Korean investments:
- Wind turbine maker SeAH Wind to invest £650 million into a monopile manufacturing facility at Teesside Freeport
- Shinhan Financial Group to invest £2 billion in renewable energy and infrastructure projects across the UK