x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Universities announce training scheme for nuclear staff

As many as 300 places may be available for Emirati students to study in South Korea to prepare them to work at future nuclear power plants.

ABU DHABI // Two universities yesterday announced an exchange programme designed to help prepare Emiratis to work in the country's first nuclear power stations. Khalifa University and the Institute of Applied Technology outlined plans for a student and lecturer exchange with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon, South Korea.

Some details of the exchange, such as how many academics will be involved and the length of overseas postings, are still being negotiated. There may be as many as 300 places available for Emirati students to study in South Korea, said Dr Nam Pyo Suh, the president of the Daejeon institute. The exchange is part of a US$20 billion (Dh74bn) contract signed last month in which a South Korean consortium was contracted to build the UAE's first nuclear power stations.

Four power plants will be constructed by 2020, ultimately supplying up to a quarter of the nation's energy. They will help reduce the UAE's carbon footprint, which is the second largest in the world per capita, according to a report published last year by the International Energy Agency. The consortium, led by Korea Electric Power Corporation, will start construction on the first plant within two years.

In advance of the launch of the power stations, the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (Kustar) has expanded its range of courses to prepare students to work in the nuclear energy sector. Kustar launched undergraduate degrees in communications and computer and electronic engineering in 2008 and last year began courses in mechanical, aerospace and software engineering. The university also plans to begin a master's degree course in September in nuclear engineering. About 20 places are expected to be available to a combination of South Korean and Emirati students who will be taught by an estimated six lecturers.

It is likely that the course will offer 12 months of academic study followed by a six-month research project in South Korea. The power stations will create about 2,300 jobs, said Dr Arif Sultan al Hammadi, the interim president of Kustar. "Our partnership with the Korean institutions will result in a surge of new programmes to offer our students, as well as strengthen our capability to drive innovative academic research."

Fahad al Qahtani, the media relations manager at the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec), said officials were hoping that about 60 per cent of the power plants' staff would be Emiratis. This is an ambitious target considering that some academics estimate that less than a quarter of Emiratis studying higher education have selected science and technology subjects. Policymakers have offered financial incentives such as grants and stipends to engineering students. Still, around 64 per cent of nationals choose business courses over science, according to the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi.

Around 40 Emiratis have been accepted into an Enec scholarship programme, with dozens more likely to join later this year. The federal Government's nuclear energy programme received the backing of all major nuclear powers after it pledged to forego uranium enrichment, a process that can be used to fuel reactors but also make weapons. Abu Dhabi intends to import uranium fuel. chamilton@thenational.ae