Ha Jae-joo, head of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), has offered to resign with one year and four months left before the end of his term. He has reportedly been under pressure from the government to implement its nuclear phase-out policy. Ha’s resignation is predicted to affect the institute’s plan to export the System-integrated Modular advanced Reactor (SMART). KAERI is supposed to complete the pre-project engineering (PPE) for SMART construction in Saudi Arabia by the end of this month.
South Korea and Saudi Arabia formed a partnership to that end in 2015. Since then, Saudi Arabia has invested US$100 million to prepare a preliminary safety analysis report. At present, KAERI is in charge of reactor system design, which is the core part of the project, as the main manager of the PPE and is preparing a 6,000-page report for a construction permit. However, the absence of the head, who is a small modular reactor expert, and the government’s policy are likely to act as hindrances to the project.
“He had a great influence on the project as a high-ranking member of the OECD/NEA and led it as KAERI president,” said an industry insider, adding, “Concerns are mounting over his absence in that he played a very important role in the project for as long as three years.” He said the role of the former president and his personal connections are essential for various licenses and permission for SMART construction in Saudi Arabia.
If South Korea succeeds in building the SMART in Saudi Arabia, it can export the reactor to neighboring countries like Jordan with greater ease. The construction cost is approximately 1 trillion won (US$900 million) per unit. South Korea developed the SMART for itself and acquired a standard design approval for the 110 MW reactor in 2013.