South Korea’s big three shipbuilders are turning to offshore nuclear power plants as a new growth engine to widen the gap with global rivals such as those from China that have been chasing closely behind in the competition.
According to multiple sources from the shipbuilding industry on Monday, offshore nuclear power plant sector has a great potential for growth as environment-related regulations strengthen. They help achieve the goal of carbon neutrality as they replace thermal power generation and they face less complaints from residents for location.
The global small module reactor market is expected to reach 65~85 gigawatts (GW) in capacity in 2035 and 130 trillion won ($103 billion) in value in 2040. Onshore SMR development will come ahead of that of offshore SMR that will begin after 2035.
Korean shipyards are scrambling to invest in the SMR market.
Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Co. (KSOE), the intermediate holding company of HD Hyundai, invested $30 million in TerraPower, a U.S. nuclear reactor design and development engineering company, in November last year.
“SMR has big potential for growth. We plan to continue to develop related technology.”
Chung Ki-sun, chief executive officer at HD Hyundai, has also set his eyes on the SMR market. At Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2023 in Las Vegas last month, Chung said that the company will utilize the sea for sustainable energy through innovation.
Samsung Heavy Industries Co. is also accelerating efforts to expand presence in the SMR market. The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) in January approved its conceptual design of a compact molten salt reactor (CMSR) that boasts safety and zero carbon emissions. CMSR is an SMR that is powered by a molten salt mixture of nuclear fuel and reactor coolant.
Samsung Heavy plans to commercialize CMSR product by 2028.
“We expect the demand for CMSRs to grow further as the reactors can be a substitute for coal-burning power plants, and a source of electricity and heat energy, both of which are necessary for the generation of heat and hydrogen and for seawater desalination,” said an unnamed official from the company.
Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. (DSME) has also considered earlier a project led by Thorcon International Pte Ltd. that involves building an offshore nuclear facility in Indonesia. DSME had planned to supply a floating object for offshore nuclear facilities. Progress, however, has not yet been made in details, according to an unnamed DSME official.
Industry insiders noted that Korean shipyards should dive deeper into the offshore nuclear plant market to widen the gap with China.
“China is in the lead in terms of overall amount of orders based on the price competitiveness but Korean shipyards are more competitive in terms of technology for high value-added vessels,” said an unnamed industry official.
Rhee Shin-hyun, president of the Society of Naval Architects of Korea (SNAK), called for Korean players to go beyond simple vessel construction and expand business areas to offshore nuclear power plants and marine smart cities.