Domestic media outlets, such as Newsis, are speculating that this may pave the way for the South Korean acquisition of nuclear-powered attack submarines.
“The two leaders commit to greater nuclear energy collaboration and accelerating the development and global deployment of advanced reactors and small modular reactors by jointly using export promotion and capacity building tools, and building a more resilient nuclear supply chain…The U.S. welcomes the ROK’s decision to join the U.S.-led Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) program.”
White House press statement
SMRs are nuclear reactors that have a maximum power generating capacity of less than 300 megawatts. This type of reactor has been used on nuclear submarines for decades, although more recent studies have focused on utilizing it for civilian purposes. Experts say that securing SMR technology is a critical step in acquiring nuclear submarines.
The possibility of South Korea developing nuclear submarines is more than just speculation. According to a source familiar with the situation who wished to remain anonymous, a “technical briefing” regarding the country’s potential acquisition of nuclear submarines recently took place. The meeting is said to have been attended by officials from South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration, the Republic of Korea Navy, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, and a major foreign company with expertise in nuclear submarines. Naval News reached out to the Ministry of National Defense (MND) for comment.
“The military will come to a decision after taking into account a multitude of factors, including South Korea’s security environment, technology, and budgetary constraints.”
South Korea MND statement
This latest development comes amid growing concerns about the country’s aircraft carrier program (CVX). Key members of the new administration, including the Minister of National Defense, have expressed reservations about the initiative. The Yoon Administration has also dismissed the previous administration’s pro-CVX Chief of Naval Operations just half a year after his appointment in December last year. Speculation is growing that the new administration might be planning on axing the CVX program and acquiring nuclear submarines instead.