By Kim Tong-hyung
A Korean consortium was picked to build Jordan's first small-scale nuclear research reactor, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said Friday.
The 200 billion won (about $173 million) deal represents Korea's first export of a locally-designed nuclear plant, ministry officials said, and may help the country find a niche in the global nuclear power plant market dominated by countries such as France, Argentina and Russia.
A consortium of the Korea Atomic Energy Institute (KAERI), and Daewoo Engineering and Construction won the bid to build the five-megawatt (MW) reactor at Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST) in Irbid, 70 kilometers north of Amman, with construction expected to be completed around 2014, government officials said.
The consortium edged out three other international companies, including Argentina's INVAP, China's CNNC and Russia's Atom Story Export (ASE) to be named by the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) as the preferred bidder for the project. A formal deal is expected to be inked in March.
"This is the most brilliant achievement so far in the 50-year history of the Korean nuclear industry. The deal will give us a chance to step up as a big-three producer of research reactors along with Argentina and Russia," Ahn Byung-man, minister of education, science and technology, said in a news conference in Seoul.
Ahn downplayed the possibility that the Korea-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement would create any complications for the Jordan reactor project.
"Since the technology to be exported to Jordan is homemade, and developed for the construction of the HANARO research reactor, there won't any problems," he said.
Research reactors, also called non-power reactors, are nuclear reactors that serve primarily as a neutron source and used for research purposes, in contrast to power reactors, which are used for electricity production or submarine propulsion.
The neutrons produced by research reactors are used for non-destructive testing, analysis of materials, production of radioisotopes, research and education.
Currently, there are about 240 research reactors operating around the world, and 50 new units are expected to be completed within the next 15 years, ministry officials said.
Since purchasing the now-retired TRIGA Mark-II from the United States in 1959, Korea has been developing its own technologies for designing and building research reactors. The country unveiled its own research reactor, the 30-megawatt High-flux Advanced Neutron Application Reactor (HANARO), in 1995, and has been seeking export opportunities ever since.
An export of a larger research reactor, around the 20-megawatt level, will be good enough to fetch around 200 to 300 billion won, Lee Jong-min, a KAERI researcher said.
"So 50 new research reactors coming in the next 15 years means that a new market worth about 10 to 20 trillion won will be generated.
Korean companies hope to win a meaningful piece of that market, but considering that the market for research reactors is less crowded than the nuclear power plant side, we will have a better chance to create ourselves a niche," Lee said.
"Although this is our first export in research reactors, we have been gaining experience in the international market over the past years. KAERI has been involved in projects to improve aged research reactors in Greece and Thailand, where we are also cooperating with the country's plans to build new reactors. We are also involved in similar efforts in countries such as Vietnam, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.
The reactor in JUST will be used for producing radioisotopes for industrial, agricultural and medical purposes, and will also be used for training local engineers and scientists, the Korean science ministry said.
Jordan expects the research reactor to contribute to its efforts to build its first nuclear power plant, a 1,000-megawatt Generation III reactor planned near Aqaba, sometime around 2015.
The country plans to have four nuclear power plants within the next 30 years, with nuclear power providing up to 60 percent of its energy needs by 2035.
"The current project will require five years and about 700 personnel, and most of the equipment and machinery will be Korean made," said Lee.
"About 97 percent of the whole design and construction process will be based on Korean technology, when calculated in cost. However, the fuel used in the reactor will be purchased from a foreign provider and a Jordanian construction company will be picked to build the reactor based on our blueprint."