Going Nuclear in the UAE

07/25/2012 8:45 am EST

Focus: GLOBAL

We have heard a lot about Iran's nuclear program, but not much about the fact that South Korea has broken ground on one of 4 new plants in the UAE, with little international fanfare but big hopes, reports April Yee of The National.

A group of South Korean and Emirati officials poured the first concrete for the UAE's nuclear plant last week. Now Seoul already hopes to broaden that partnership.

Once the UAE's four planned reactors are completed by 2020, the two countries will have built up a nuclear expertise that they can bring to other nations by co-bidding to build plants, said Kwak Seung-jun, the chairman of the South Korean Presidential Council for Future and Vision, an advisory group to the president.

"I definitely think our cooperation for constructing a nuclear power plant in the UAE will be very successsful, and then we have some kind of reputation," said Kwak. "If we will have that kind of opportunity, then we can cooperate, because then the UAE and Korea will have experience in building nuclear power plants."

A consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) beat French and American groups in 2009 to win a $20 billion contract to build and operate four reactors.

Construction on the first began last Wednesday with the pouring of safety-related concrete at Baraka, 300 kilometers from the capital. Nuclear companies from more than one nation often partner to bid for nuclear plant projects in a third country, such as France's Areva and Germany's Siemens work on a Finnish reactor.

A partnership between the UAE and South Korea to build nuclear plants abroad, however, would be rare in an industry dominated by established nuclear nations such as the United States, France, and Russia.

South Korea and the UAE have already collaborated in non-nuclear energy projects abroad, including an Abu Dhabi National Energy (Taqa) gas-fired power plant in Ghana that is being expanded by Kepco and Japan's Mitsui.

South Korea and the UAE are also cooperating in strategic sectors including oil production, military training, health care and even finance, with a First Gulf Bank opening in Seoul. The developments are part of a shift of power from western nations to growing economies in Asia, said Kwak, who shuttles between Seoul and Abu Dhabi as an interlocuter between the two governments.

"The balance of political and economic power has been shifting from West to East," he said in an interview in Abu Dhabi. "Now with the crisis of European companies and the Eurozone crisis, the shifting has become faster than before."

In March, Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC) and GS Energy, two Korean oil companies, secured exploration rights to three blocks covering a tenth of Abu Dhabi's land mass, one of the largest concessions ever granted in the emirate.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed last year between the two governments, South Korea will also have the right to participate in oil production projects with at least 1 billion barrels of oil reserves in 2014—a veiled reference to the onshore Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (Adco) concession that has remained in the hands of the western oil majors for 73 years.

It expires in 2014, and KNOC has been invited to pre-qualify, along with several existing partners such as Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) and other new players like Norway's Statoil (STO).

"The participation of Korea in oilfields in Abu Dhabi has given some kind of stimulus to the majors in Western Europe. 'Where is Korea? What is Korea?' They are very nervous, right?" said Kwak. "We can compete with majors and European countries.

"Already Korea is competing with the European countries in electronics and automobiles, many manufacturing fields, buildings, and steel manufacturing—so I think they know the potential of Koreans."

Read more from The National here...

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