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South Korea sets sights on more nuclear deals in UAE and Middle East

South Korea wants to win further nuclear-energy deals in the region, building on its successful bid to construct the Arab world's first reactors in Abu Dhabi.

South Korea wants to win further nuclear deals in the UAE and the wider region, and build on its successful bid to construct the Arab world’s first reactors in Abu Dhabi.

In 2009 the emirate tasked Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) to build four nuclear reactors in Barakah in the Western Region. Already a dominant player in the construction of energy and conventional power projects, Barakah is South Korea’s first foray into exporting nuclear expertise.

“The UAE deal is the first successful deal for export. Based on that success, [we] are also looking for some potential countries that might have an interest in nuclear development,” said Sang Hyun Lee, the director general for policy planning at South Korea’s ministry of foreign affairs and trade.

“There is a huge potential for cooperation in the nuclear area between Korea and the Middle East region.”

The first 1,400MW reactor in Barakah is due to come online in 2017, and all four reactors are planned to be operational by 2020. For the Koreans, the UAE holds promise for more business.

“We hope to make another deal,” said Mr Lee. His remarks come days before Lee Myung-bak, the South Korea president, will come to Barakah as part of his state visit to the UAE.

The reactors in Barakah will add a sizeable chunk of electricity to Abu Dhabi’s grid. But an increase in consumption means that additional nuclear power plants cannot be ruled out in the future.

“If the UAE electricity demand forecast keeps increasing, and there is a justification for further units, then we will look into it,” said Fahad Al Qahtani, the director of external affairs and communications at Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec), the government body in charge of Abu Dhabi’s nuclear sector.

The Government expects demand for electricity in the emirate to rise by 11 per cent each year to 2015.

Nuclear power is seen as an answer to the growing power needs in the Arabian Gulf. The bulk of power plants in the region run on natural gas, but gas resources in the region are insufficient for demand increases.

Governments are starting to develop renewable energy capacities, but some experts believe that solar and wind power will not be enough.

It was not only the oil-rich Gulf states that could buy into nuclear power.

“There are several Middle East countries that do not have rich oil production. For those countries, a nuclear power plant may be the favoured alternative source for energy,” said Mr Lee.

South Korea has already sold a research reactor to Jordan, a country with stated nuclear ambitions.

fneuhof@thenational.ae

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