A South Korean venture with the United Arab Emirates is inching closer to switching on the Arab world’s first commercial atomic-energy plant.
Korea Electric Power Corp. has completed construction of the Barakah Unit 1 reactor, and Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp.’s handover of operations at the plant to the Nawah Energy Co. joint venture is “almost complete,” Christer Viktorsson, the U.A.E.’s top nuclear regulator, said in an interview. Additional tests and adjustments need to be done before the government will allow the plant to operate, he said.
“I have to make sure that everything is tip-top before I give the operating license,” Viktorsson, director-general of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, said in his office in the U.A.E. emirate of Abu Dhabi. “They have 60 or 80 years to operate, which is the typical life time of a nuclear reactor. So, why rush for two months or three months or a year?”
Officials at Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp., the facility’s state-run developer, had no immediate response to a request for comment.
The U.A.E., with about 6 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, plans to bring a total of four nuclear plants into operation by 2021, the Persian Gulf nation’s Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei said in September. The reactors are estimated to cost $25 billion and produce a combined 5,600 megawatts of power, a vital component in the country’s program to diversify its energy supply and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.
Other Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also announced nuclear projects to help provide electricity to their growing populations and industries. Saudi Arabia targets building at least 16 nuclear plants over the next 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, and it’s considering working with contractors from the U.S., Russia, China and other countries.
The U.A.E.’s first Barakah reactor plans to begin loading fuel next month, South Korea’s energy ministry said in March in an emailed statement. South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended a ceremony to celebrate the facility’s completion, the U.A.E.’s official WAM news agency reported on March 26.
Viktorsson said the plant can’t load fuel until his agency issues an operating license, without specifying when the regulator was likely to do so. “Not in the next couple of weeks, that’s for sure,” said Viktorsson, a nuclear physicist with both Swedish and Finnish citizenship.
The U.A.E. government expects the four Barakah plants, built on a sparsely populated strip of desert on Abu Dhabi’s coast, to contribute almost 25 percent of the nation’s electricity, ENEC Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Al Hammadi told a conference in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 28. The nation depends currently on imported natural gas to generate much of its power.
Nawah Energy, a joint venture between ENEC and Korea Electric, was established to operate the U.A.E.’s four nuclear plants. Korea Electric led a group that won a contract in 2009 to build the facilities, and it owns 18 percent of the operating venture.
The U.A.E.’s nuclear safety culture is improving day by day, Viktorsson said. “They realize that we cannot have a nuclear accident,” he said. “Even a small accident is too much.”