The National Intelligence Service (NIS) is investigating the alleged leaks of Korean-type nuclear reactor technology to the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The NIS is expected to inform the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy of the results of the investigation on June 18 at the earliest.
The alleged technology leaks come two years after President Moon Jae-in officially declared Korea’s nuclear phase-out plan in a ceremony held in June 2017 to permanently halt Kori Reactor No.1.
Some nuclear energy experts point out that Korea’s nuclear technologies worth trillions of Korean won are being leaked abroad because Korean nuclear energy engineers leave for jobs abroad due to the collapse of the nuclear power generation industry in Korea.
"It is true that the NIS is looking into the allegations," a government official said on June 17. “The NIS is investigating the scope of the technology leaks at the moment. Details of the investigation will be reported to the MOTIE."
Reportedly, the leak case involved former specialists of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power who moved to a foreign nuclear power generation company and private Korean companies. The Board of Audit and Inspection also reported that there was a loophole in Korea’s nuclear technology protection system.
The leaked technologies are believed to be the core technologies of the Korean-type nuclear reactor APR1400, which was introduced to the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant of the UAE.
Industry experts suspect that the reactor design and NAPS software, a diagnostic program that checks the proper operation of nuclear power plants, have been leaked.
The APR1400 reactor boasts the world's best competitiveness. Last month, it was certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), becoming the first non-U.S. nuclear reactor to be recognized by the NRC.
To export such technology abroad, prior permission from the Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control (KINAC) is required. This is because the technology can be used for the development of nuclear weapons. A former KHNP executive who is currently under the NIS probe reportedly ignored these procedures and illegally leaked materials that he had acquired in the process of designing nuclear power plants in Korea. In addition, a private company is suspected of having leaked technology to the United States in the process of developing a nuclear reactor simulator.
In the meantime, Chung Jae-hoon, president of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., said NAPS was provided to the UAE in compliance with the relevant procedure and the technology export was irrelevant to the Korean government’s nuclear phase-out policy.
NAPS is software that monitors critical variables in nuclear reactors and one of the three major nuclear power technologies suspected of having been leaked.
"The technology was transferred to the UAE through a legitimate procedure," Chung said in his Facebook page.
According to KHNP, the NAPS Program was provided to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. (ENEC) of the UAE in accordance with a 2015 contract to provide a nuclear reactor simulator to the UAE. KHNP said that it received approval from KEPCO E&C, the producer of NAPS, and permission from KINAC before transferring the technology.
Chung also said that one reason for Korean nuclear energy engineers’ departure from Korea is that the law prohibits officials of nuclear power plant-related state-run companies and research institutions in Korea from getting a job in Korea without permission for three years after their retirement. “Allegations of technology leaks have been made since KHNP started the nuclear power business. But I don’t see an increase in nuclear technology leak cases lately."