Tag Archives: UAE nuclear program

The Unsellables and the Super-Acheivers

 Barakah nuclear-power plant under construction in Abu Dhabi 2017

THE Barakah nuclear-power plant under construction in Abu Dhabi will never attract the attention that the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in neighbouring Dubai does, but it is an engineering feat nonetheless. It is using three times as much concrete as the world’s tallest building, and six times the amount of steel. Remarkably, its first reactor may start producing energy in the first half of this year—on schedule and (its South Korean developers insist) on budget. That would be a towering achievement.

In much of the world, building a nuclear-power plant looks like a terrible business prospect. Two recent additions to the world’s nuclear fleet, in Argentina and America, took 33 and 44 years to erect. Of 55 plants under construction, the Global Nuclear Power database reckons almost two-thirds are behind schedule .  The delays lift costs, and make nuclear less competitive with other sources of electricity, such as gas, coal and renewables.
Not one of the two technologies that were supposed to revolutionise the supply of nuclear energy—the European Pressurised Reactor, or EPR, and the AP1000 from America’s Westinghouse—has yet been installed, despite being conceived early this century. In Finland, France and China, all the EPRs under construction are years behind schedule. The main hope for salvaging their reputation—and the nuclear business of EDF, the French utility that owns the technology—is the Hinkley Point C project in Britain, which by now looks a lot like a Hail Mary pass.

Meanwhile, delays with the Westinghouse AP1000 have caused mayhem at Toshiba, its owner. The Japanese firm may announce write-downs in February of up to $6bn on its American nuclear business. As nuclear assets are probably unsellable, it is flogging parts of its core, microchip business instead.

YThis month, Oregon-based NuScale Power became the first American firm to apply for certification of a small modular reactor (SMR) design with America’s nuclear regulators.

“Clearly the momentum seems to be shifting away from traditional suppliers,” says William Magwood, director-general of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency. Both small and large reactors are required. In places like America and Europe, where electricity demand is growing slowly, there is rising interest in small, flexible ones. In fast-growing markets like China, large nuclear plants make more economic sense.
If the South Koreans succeed with their first foreign nuclear programme in Abu Dhabi, the reason is likely to be consistency. Nuclear accidents such as Three-Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 caused a long hiatus in nuclear construction in America and Europe. But South Korea has invested in nuclear power for four decades, using its own technology since the 1990s, says Lee Jong-ho, an executive at Korea Electric Power (KEPCO), which leads the consortium building Barakah. It does not suffer from the skills shortages that bedevil nuclear construction in the West.

KEPCO always works with the same, familiar suppliers and construction firms hailing from Korea Inc. By contrast, both the EPR and AP1000, first-of-a-kind technologies with inevitable teething problems, have suffered from being contracted out to global engineering firms. Also, South Korea and China both keep nuclear building costs low through repetition and standardisation, says the World Nuclear Association (WNA), an industry group. It estimates that South Korean capital costs have remained fairly stable in the past 20 years, while they have almost tripled in France and America.

Excerpts The nuclear options: How to build a nuclear-power plant, Economist, Jan. 28 2017, at 57

 

Nuclear Energy in the Gulf: a response to Iran

IAEA's  Amano wiht UAE Hammadi

Fuelled by rising energy demand and depleting oil and gas resources, nuclear energy has gained strong momentum in the GCC, particularly in countries like the UAE.  The country has lofty ambitions to generate up to 25 per cent of its electricity needs – or 5.6GW – through nuclear means by 2020.  Abu Dhabi began construction of its first nuclear reactor, Barakah 1, in July 2012, and it is in the process of building three more plants.  Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, the body responsible for the project, announced in February 2014 that the first two plants are on schedule and are up to 35 per cent complete.

Barakah Unit 1 is scheduled to enter commercial operations in 2017 while Unit 2 is scheduled for operations in 2018, pending regulatory approvals. The third and fourth units are slated to begin commercial operations in 2019 and 2020 respectively.  Lady Barbara Judge, a member of the UAE nuclear programme’s International Advisory Board and former chairman of the UK’s Atomic Energy Authority, says she is confident that the programme will be recognised as the best new built nuclear power project of the century.

“The UAE has a ruler who is very stable and who is very interested in the diversification of energy supply, it doesn’t have the political problems that you have in other countries, it understands the planning process about where to put the power plant, it has got good sites, it has an independent regulator and the country is building schools to develop skills and training among locals,” she explains.

Along with the UAE, another Gulf country that is actively pursuing a nuclear programme is Saudi Arabia.  The Kingdom’s nuclear ambitions are substantially larger. It hopes to become the Middle East’s largest nuclear power producer over the next 20 years at an estimated cost of roughly $100 billion, with plans to build 16 nuclear power plants that will generate 17.6GW of power progressively to 2032.  Saudi’s King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (Ka-Care), which focuses on energy diversification, has set up an independent regulator, the Saudi Arabian Atomic Regulatory Authority, to oversee the Kingdom’s civil atomic energy programme.   Ka-Care is also in the process of creating the Nuclear Holding Company to serve as the private sector arm of the Kingdom in designing and operating nuclear power plants and research reactors.  Saudi Arabia has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with several countries including Japan, France and Jordan with Ka-Care negotiating with Russia, Czech Republic, UK and the USA for “further cooperation.”

The country hopes to call for preliminary bids for its first nuclear reactor in 2014, say officials. Construction on the first reactor is expected to begin in 2017 and is slated for completion by 2022.  Similar to the UAE, the Kingdom has a stable government, huge coffers and vast land slots – all extremely suitable for nuclear power generation, opines Lady Judge.

However, nuclear energy may not necessarily be the best option for the GCC region, states Mohammed Atif, area manager, Energy Advisory, Middle East at DNV GL – Energy.  “A reasonable diversification of fuels is always beneficial for a region in order to reduce risks and price volatility,” he says…..“Nuclear power plants generally tend to generate electricity only, whereas the GCC is accustomed to co-generation where power plants generate electricity and also desalinate water. Unless the system adopts nuclear technology which incorporates desalination technology, then a challenge remains in terms of ensuring sufficient desalination capacity.”

An Oxford report on nuclear power production in the GCC published in December 2012 also pointed out that nuclear power generation could prove an expensive option for GCC states.  “The substantial initial investment costs, coupled with the high expected level of long run variable costs, is unlikely to render nuclear power cost effective vis-à-vis conventional oil and gas fired power plants in the region,” it says.  The existing absence of cost-recovering power tariffs throughout the GCC already renders effective cost recovery for nuclear power unlikely, implying a substantial bill in the form of nuclear power subsidies to be picked up by GCC governments.”  There are also other hidden costs, such as national and regional security concerns and the future disposal of nuclear waste.

“And the acquisition of nuclear technology by GCC states, albeit for civilian purposes, provides fuel to those critics of nuclear power in the region who fear a nuclear arms race in the Gulf should Iran pursue a nuclear weapons programme in the future.  “All these concerns make nuclear power a potentially costly option for the GCC,” the report cautions.  While initial costs are sizeable, Lady Judge believes that they can be recovered during the long-life of nuclear plants – estimated at around 60 years. She also affirms that energy subsidies are bound to fall away.

Excerpt from Aarti Nagraj, Nuclear Power: Boon Or Bane For The GCC?, Gulf Business, Apr. 19, 2014

The UAE Goes Forward with its Nuclear Energy Program

EnergySolutions has been awarded a four year contract to design and supply waste management systems for the United Arab Emirates’(UAE) nuclear energy program. The program will see a Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO)-led consortium build four reactors for the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), with the reactors based on the Shin-Kori APR1400 plants, which will serve as the ‘reference plants’ for the UAE’s new build plans.  Under the contract EnergySolutions will supply liquid waste processing equipment, including ion exchange and reverse osmosis systems, which will serve to significantly reduce levels of contamination and waste.

“This contract award follows EnergySolutions’ capture of two similar deals in China and sees the Middle East join the USA and Canada, Europe, and Asia as markets for the company’s sector-leading technologies and expertise in nuclear waste processing solutions”, said Mark Morant, President, Global Commercial Group, EnergySolutions. “We are leading the way in both the clean-up of old reactors and the design of innovative waste systems for new units and we look forward to working with KEPCO & ENEC to make a success of the UAE’s exciting new build program.”

EnergySolutions has over 15 years’ experience designing and delivering liquid waste management systems to Korean customers and other Korean reactor sites where our equipment is operating include Shin-Wolsong 1-2, Shin-Kori 1-2, 3-4, Kori 1-2, 3-4, Youngwang 1-2, 3-4, and Ulchin 1-2, 3-4. The Chinese wins were at the Yangjiang and Haiyang reactor sites.

EnergySolutions Wins Major New Build Contract in the United Arab Emirates, Press Release of Energy Solutions, Feb. 23, 2012

See also Nuclear Race in the Middle East