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UAE inspires GCC nuclear future

With electricity demand in the GCC growing by 8 to 10% annually, the region is turning to nuclear to meet a twin challenge - how to diversify its electricity-generating mix while reducing reliance on fossil fuels

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Kirill Komarov, Rosatom, Saudi arabia, Khalid bin Saleh Al-Sultan, Kacare, Awaidha Al Marar

The United Arab Emirates is making progress on the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the GCC region. In July, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) announced that the first nuclear reactor would come online to start generating electric power in late 2019 or early 2020.

Construction of the UAE’s second nuclear power reactor is nearing completion with pre-operational testing well underway. Pre-operational testing process incorporates all lessons learned from the same test on Unit 1.

Construction of Unit 2 began in April 2013, one year after Unit 1. Overall construction progress rate for the four Units is now more than 89%.

“Keeping construction progress approximately one year apart for each of the Units at Barakah makes it possible for us to implement all lessons learned from one Unit to the subsequent ones, in line with international best practices in the management of megaprojects,” says Mohamed Al Hammadi, CEO of ENEC.

Hot functional testing takes place over a number of weeks and consists of almost 200 individual and integrated tests performed on major systems to check their performance under normal operational conditions, without the presence of nuclear fuel in the reactor.

The test includes the first time that most of the reactor’s systems experience the operational temperature of nearly 300 degrees Celsius, ENEC said.

“The pre-operational commissioning phase of a nuclear energy plant is a complex and critical step towards starting to operate the plant. It is essential that it is tested under operational conditions without nuclear fuel to demonstrate that the highest standards of safety, security and quality are achieved,” said Al Hammadi.

All four units are expected will save up to 21 million tons of carbon emissions each year, equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars from the roads.

Barakah One, the joint venture between ENEC and the Korea Electric Power Corporation representing the commercial and financial interests of the project, said recently that it had received an electricity generation licence from the UAE’s Department of Energy (DoE).

The licence is a key regulatory requirement before the Barakah nuclear energy plant in Al Dhafra, Abu Dhabi, can start operations. Construction of the $25bn project began in 2011.

Nawah Energy Company, ENEC and KEPCO’s operating and maintenance subsidiary, also needs to obtain an operating license from the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, which regulates the industry according to international standards, to get the go-ahead for startup.

“Barakah One Company has demonstrated its commitment to all requirements,” says Awaidha Al Marar, the DoE chairman.

One of the strategic objectives of the DoE is to guarantee energy security and sufficient supplies of energy, thus we look forward to strengthening our cooperation with ENEC and its subsidiaries ….. to meet the economic aspirations and needs of coming generations.”

The UAE is the first country in the region to have undertaken the project of generating electricity from nuclear energy -- one of the best solutions for the production of clean and efficient power to support UAE’s economic growth and diversification.

“Nuclear is an important way to meet the fast-growing demand for energy in the region, taking into consideration a wish to diversify the energy sources and not rely solely on oil and gas,” says John Bernhard, former Danish ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Besides, the use of nuclear power is a significant element in an energy strategy which considers the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and implement commitments concerning climate change. Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are beneficial from a climate change point of view, but will often not be sufficient to cover large energy demands.”

The progress at the UAE nuclear plant has emboldened the resolve of neighbouring countries such Saudi Arabia and Egypt to add nuclear into their energy mix.

So far, Saudi Arabia has identified two possible sites for power stations, on the Gulf coast at Umm Huwayd and Khor Duweihin. Plans for small reactors for desalination are also well advanced.

Recently, a delegation from the IAEA visited the headquarters of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) in Saudi Arabia to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts in preparing the necessary infrastructure for the introduction of nuclear into the Kingdom’s energy mix.

The IAEA team said that Saudi Arabia has made “significant progress” in the development of its nuclear power infrastructure. It noted the country has established a legislative framework and is carrying out comprehensive studies to support the next steps of the programme.

In July last year, the Saudi government announced that it intends to add nuclear power to the country’s energy mix with the objective of diversifying and boosting its production capacity. KA-CARE announced last year that it was soliciting proposals for 2.9GW nuclear capacity from South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

Saudi Arabia earlier announced plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years. A 2010 royal decree identified nuclear power as essential to help meet growing energy demand for both electricity generation and water desalination while reducing reliance on depleting hydrocarbon resources.

“The vision of Saudi Arabia 2030 considers nuclear energy as an important source to support stability and sustainable growth,” says Khalid bin Saleh Al-Sultan, president, KA-CARE. “Deployment of nuclear energy aims for peaceful purposes, in a safe, secure and sustainable manner consistent with highest standards and best practices. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has requested the INIR mission to support this goal.”

“It was a valuable tool to pinpoint areas of improvement and ensure that the required infrastructures are in place before signing the contract for building the first nuclear power plant in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Russia’s Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Cooperation said in September that it was ready to build 16 nuclear power units in Saudi Arabia in a $100bn deal. The announcement came a year after Russia and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to work together on “peaceful” nuclear energy projects.

“There are prospects for cooperation in the field of nuclear energy. The intergovernmental agreement on cooperation between Rosatom and Science City of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which was signed in June of 2015, is under implementation,” said Yury Ushakov, aide to the President of the Russian Federation.

“Our company, which has the most advanced technologies, is ready to join the project on construction of 16 nuclear power reactors in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The project is provided until 2030, its cost is $100bn,” he said.

In May, the First deputy CEO of Rosatom, Kirill Komarov, said that the nuclear programme of Saudi Arabia is very ambitious and envisages the construction of 16 nuclear power units in the country.

Rosatom brings together over 360 nuclear companies and research and development institutions that operate in the civilian and defence sectors and the world’s only nuclear icebreaker fleet.

The company currently holds projects for the construction of 30 nuclear power plants, from which 21 are abroad in such countries as India, China, Turkey, Vietnam, Finland and Hungary.

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