x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Japan looks to region for new nuclear business

Japan's nuclear industry hopes to recover from the Fukushima meltdown earlier this year as parliament is set to approve bilateral agreements that allow for exports, and for Japanese companies to compete for Jordan's nuclear power project.

Workers continue to repair the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility which was damaged by a tsunami in March. Toru Hanai / Reuters
Workers continue to repair the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility which was damaged by a tsunami in March. Toru Hanai / Reuters

Japan's parliament is set to approve international agreements designed to help the country's nuclear industry recover after the Fukushima disaster in March.

It is also hoped they will enable the country to become a contender for the Middle East's next nuclear power project.

Japan is looking abroad to revive its fortunes, and is eagerly awaiting the parliament's approval of bilateral civil nuclear agreements signed with Jordan, Russia, South Korea and Vietnam in February, a requirement for exports.

The Diet, Japan's parliament, could come to a decision on the accords as early as today, according to local press reports, after the current session commenced on Wednesday. The administration under Yoshihiko Noda, the prime minister, is keen to smooth the way for nuclear exports, and the agreements have the approval of both major parties. The session runs until December 9.

Of the signatories, Jordan is the Arab state most determined to emulate the UAE in adding nuclear to its power generation capacity.

Its government aims to draw power from a reactor by 2019, and has said it would appoint a contractor early next year.

After Fukushima, the nuclear industry is facing difficult times, not just in Japan, and players are taking Jordan's ambitions seriously. A consortium of Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and France's Areva is competing with Russian and Canadian firms for the contract.

The government plans to narrow negotiations over the project to one consortium by March 2013, thus making any further delay in passing the accord a potential threat to the chances of the Japanese-French bid.

"We cannot give space to others as far as Jordan is concerned," said a senior official at MHI in a statement released by the company on November 29.

Japan's nuclear industry was looking abroad prior to Fukushima. Toshiba bought the US nuclear power company Westinghouse in 2006, and has since won eight orders in the US.

Toshiba will start exporting equipment for nuclear power plants to the US this month, and targets the UK and eastern Europe as export markets. MHI has secured two informal deals to build three reactors in the US, and is also bidding for a project in Finland.

Hitachi is in advanced negotiations over the construction of a nuclear plant in Lithuania, and will jointly develop small reactors in Canada. Abu Dhabi signed a US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) deal with South Korea's Kepco in 2009.

The contract mandates four reactors with a combined capacity of 5,600 megawatts by 2020. The first pair of reactors are due to feed into the grid by 2017.

Iran is the only country in the Middle East that currently operates a nuclear power plant. Its reactor in Bushehr finally became operational last year after the project was initially launched just before the 1979 revolution.

Iran's refusal to stop its uranium enrichment programme has prompted a new round of international sanctions in November.

fneuhof@thenational.ae