This is an artist's impression of a nuclear research reactor to be operated by Jordan Atomic Energy Commission. Daewoo Engineering & Construction won the bid to build the reactor in 2009. / Courtesy of Daewoo E&C
By Yi Whan-woo
Daewoo Engineering & Construction is emerging as a major global player in the construction of nuclear power plants.
Building nuclear plants is becoming a lucrative business for Daewoo. The size of the international nuclear power plant market is expected to reach $3.5 trillion by 2030, according to the company.
The country's third-largest builder has cemented its global reputation as Korea's only "all-round player" that can handle every job required to build and run various types of nuclear reactors.
"The nuclear power plant business can bring high profitability with a growing demand for non-fossil fuel energy worldwide," said a company official. "And we can compete as a global player based on our experience here and overseas in engineering, construction, maintenance, as well as safety management."
During the 1980s and 1990s, Daewoo constructed two of the four CANada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors at Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province.
A CANDU reactor refers to a Canadian-invented, pressurized heavy water reactor that uses deuterium-oxide, a form of water that contains a larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium, as its moderator. It also requires use of natural uranium fuel.
Daewoo also has been in charge of building two nuclear reactors at the Shin Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant in Gyeongju. The first was completed last year, and the second will be built by January 2014, the firm said.
The type of those reactors is Optimized Power Reactor (OPR)-1000. It refers to a locally developed reactor that can produce 1 million kilowatts of electricity with an annual output reaching around 7.9 billion kilowatt hours. This is equivalent to 40 percent of the power used by Busan, the country's second-largest city.
"All of the nuclear power plants in the country are solely operated by the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), and that proves our technological edge," the company said.
It added that the OPR-1000 type has drawn attention worldwide for its safety mechanism that can contain and prevent radioactive materials from leaking when accidents occur.
"We've been serving as technical advisors for the nuclear power plant operators in China and Taiwan," it said.
Daewoo was a latecomer in nuclear power plant construction compared with other Korean builders. But it surpassed its rivals to become the first builder to have capability in design, which was solely managed by the KHNP before.
In April, the company won a contract offered by the state-run Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) to design and engineer a 20-megawatt nuclear reactor in Gijang, South Gyeongsang Province, to produce isotopes.
Such radioactive materials were imported in the past for cancer therapies and other medical treatment.
The reactor, to be operated by KAERI, a research center under KHNP, is expected to give a stable supply of the isotopes and boost exports of such radioactive materials, according to the company.
"We'd say we have set up a cornerstone in exporting isotopes for medical purposes," Daewoo said.
The company has become the country's only certified builder by the KHNP in nuclear reactor design after it formed a consortium with the KAERI and won an order from the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission in 2009. It was the first time that a Korean firm won a nuclear reactor construction order overseas.
The Middle East country awarded the contract for its engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) project that allows Daewoo E&C to handle the entire process of building the nuclear energy facility.
The four-year project that started in April is worth 18.6 billion won ($16.7 million) and Daewoo E&C has already completed 43 percent of the building process.
"KAERI highly valued our strengths in building nuclear facilities," a Daewoo spokesman said.
The company also enhanced diversity in its engineering and constructing business portfolio for the nuclear power sector. Its portfolio includes nuclear power plants, low- and medium-level radioactive waste disposal facilities, research reactors and the development of small and midsize power reactors.
Daewoo is actively joining research and development activities for the System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactor, or SMART, a desalination reactor that is considered a fourth-generation reactor.