The Abu Dhabi Government has chosen a group of South Korean firms to build the country's first nuclear power stations, advancing the UAE's goal to become the first Arab nation to harness atomic energy on a commercial scale.
The US$20 billion (Dh73.47bn) award for four power stations to be built by 2020 will supply up to a quarter of the emirate's energy in 10 years and will drastically cut the country's carbon footprint. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, signed the contract with the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, yesterday at Emirates Palace. "Our relationship with South Korea, which has seen sustained growth in recent years, has ushered into a new era of strategic partnership which will serve the interest of the two countries," Sheikh Khalifa was cited by the state news agency WAM as saying.
The South Korean consortium, led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) will start construction on the first plant within two years and is scheduled to complete it by 2017. The federal Government's nuclear energy programme has received the backing of all major nuclear powers as a result of its commitment to forego uranium enrichment, a process that can be used to fuel reactors but also make weapons. Abu Dhabi intends to import uranium fuel under the programme.
The South Korean consortium faced long odds in a stiff three-way competition with French firms and a US-Japan alliance, said experts who had speculated that strategic political considerations would play an important role in the selection process. "The decision to give the contract to South Korea indicates that it has been mainly driven by commercial considerations," said Eckart Woertz, an economist at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai. "Given the strategic importance of the whole project and the earlier framework agreements with France and the US, this has come as a surprise to many."
Officials of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) said the South Korean group was chosen for its competitive price, its ability to deliver on time and the company's well-developed plans for Emiratising the nuclear workforce. Enec also liked the fact that Kepco was clearly in charge of the rest of the consortium. The Government chose nuclear power over alternatives such as natural gas, coal and crude oil for several reasons.
The country is already heavily reliant on limited supplies of natural gas, while crude oil is extremely costly and coal has the highest carbon emissions. Renewables such as solar power are expected to contribute seven per cent of the emirate's electricity needs by 2020. Nuclear power would make up 23 per cent to 25 per cent of Abu Dhabi's electricity supply by 2020, said Mohamed al Hammadi, the Enec chief executive.