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Samsung and two other Korean conglomerates have signed an agreement with U.S.-based NuScale to build small-scale modular nuclear reactors, known as SMRs, in Asia as demand for clean energy grows globally.
NuScale and Samsung C&T, the construction and trading arm of Samsung Group, together with units of Korean conglomerates Doosan Group and GS Group, will explore the deployment of NuScale’s SMR power plants. “This announcement is a critical next step in bringing NuScale’s clean energy solution to Asia,” NuScale said in a statement.
“With this MOU, it is expected that there will be great progress in SMR business development through stronger cooperation between NuScale and Korean strategic investors,” said Byungsoo Lee, a vice president at Samsung C&T, in the statement. “I think SMRs will play an important role to respond to the demand of carbon-free and climate change.”
The deal was announced after Yoon Suk-yeol was elected South Korea’s president in March. Yoon, who took office on May 10, has pledged to embrace nuclear energy to accelerate South Korea’s goal to zero out emissions.
Samsung C&T, the de-facto holding company of billionaire Jay Y. Lee’s Samsung conglomerate, began co-investing with NuScale in 2019, followed by more cooperation last year.
Samsung, Doosan and GS Energy will advise NuScale in component manufacturing, plant construction and plant operation, the statement said. NuScale probably expects Samsung C&T to “build these things efficiently,” says Todd Allen, chair and professor of the nuclear engineering and radiological sciences department at the University of Michigan.
NuScale probably anticipates building plants that are faster and cheaper to build than today’s nuclear plants, says Charles Mason, chair in petroleum and natural gas economics in the department of economics and finance at the University of Wyoming. NuScale specializes in “small modular reactors,” he notes.
Construction of modular reactors can take less than a year and cost “scores of millions of dollars” rather than billions, Mason estimates.
“Conventional [nuclear] plants tend to be very expensive, take very long to build and because of those things they’re chronically plagued by cost overruns,” notes Mason. He believes parts of the world that are phasing out coal-generated power might consider the modular nuclear plants instead of traditional ones. “I think there’s a real future for some places to get behind modular reactors,” he says.
Sites in the U.S. have begun exploring whether to install the smaller reactor, Allen notes, and places in Asia may do the same. China is working on its own.
The global nuclear power plant and equipment industry generated $41 billion in 2020 and should stand at $58 billion by 2030, Allied Market Research said in February. The market research firm points to an increase in energy demand amid the “prerequisite of cleaner generation of power” as a reason for expected growth.
But the future of these plants hinges on regulatory approval, meaning any deployment could be five to 10 years away, Allen notes. “NuScale has a lot of memoranda of understanding, but we don’t know yet whether it will work out,” he says.
Allen notes that no one has taken a global market lead in SMRs, and NuScale is trying to secure regulatory approvals first.