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Want a nuke plant? Call Korea

January 10, 2010


You’ll be forgiven if you don’t know that KEPCO (Korean Electric Power Company) is the world’s third largest nuclear plant builder, but the name is likely to become far more recognizable in years to come. KEPCO just beat its two main competitors (GE/Hitachi and Areva) to get a $20 billion contract related to four new Generation-3 APR-1400 reactors in the United Arab Emirates. Given KEPCO’s attractive pricing, there are likely to be more such projects in other parts of the world.

Press accounts suggest that price was a major issue in this case. KEPCO was the low bidder by billions of dollars. The Economist quotes an executive saying, “We’re cheap, durable, and dependable.” Based on other reports cited in this blog, industry followers believe that nuclear plants are so expensive because their safety systems have grown to ridiculous proportions. Maybe KEPCO has found a way around that.

Korea is no Johnny-come-lately in the industry. It started building plants in the late 1960s when the country was still an economic backwater and recovering from the war. Now it has 20 nuclear units operating and has made huge advances in developing domestic skills and supply.

Probably about 12 or 13 years ago, I was the main contact at my company dealing with KEPCO to provide special spray nozzles for installation inside the containment dome. If memory serves, it was for Yonggwang Units 3 and 4. That was quite an experience dealing firsthand with the nuclear procurement process. Our product was a simple nozzle made from a single cast component with two machining operations. There were something like 1,040 of them, but it wasn’t a complex mechanism. Ultimately the documentation probably filled two boxes and we had visits from multiple auditors. Perhaps KEPCO has found more sensible purchasing procedures as well.