The Future of Nuclear Power in Emerging Markets: The United Arab Emirates

Forum on Energy’s Emerging Market Series takes a country-by-country look at the future of nuclear power in emerging markets. While many are rolling back their use of nuclear energy in the wake of Fukushima, there still seems to be a clear effort by emerging nations to make nuclear energy a major part of their future. Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, China, Turkey, India and Finland are just a few of the nations Forum On Energy will highlight in its Emerging Market Series.

Nuclear energy is becoming a preferred energy option for the Middle East. Economic growth, a strained electricity grid and interest in reducing reliance on fossil fuels for power generation have resulted in firm plans for nuclear energy development throughout the region.

Not surprisingly, oil and gas have been the primary sources of power generation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The country ranks eighth among the world’s top oil producers and boasts significant natural gas reserves.  But, as the country’s economy has grown, the government has determined that nuclear energy is the best option for meeting its future energy needs.

According to a fact sheet released by the UAE Embassy in Washington in June 2010, the country’s energy demand is expected to increase by about nine percent a year — to more than 40,000 megawatts by 2020.

Several options for meeting future energy needs were considered, including increased use of natural gas, burning oil or diesel, as well as development of a renewable energy sector. In the end, nuclear power was determined to be the best option because it provides the efficient use of capacity and is a non-fossil, non-carbon source of energy generation.

The UAE enacted the UAE Nuclear Law in 2009, which opened the way for the country to introduce nuclear power. That same year, the Federal Authority of Nuclear Regulation (FANR) was established and the UAE signed a safeguards protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that promulgated procedures for inspections of its facilities. With the nuclear energy law in place and necessary international agreements signed, the UAE is set to become the first in the region to develop a nuclear energy program.

Korea Underbids the Competition

The UAE considered tender offers to construct reactors from nine entities. It selected from a short list that included Areva, GE-Hitachi and a Korean Electric Power Company-led consortium.

The Korean Consortium — led by state-owned Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and including Westinghouse, Samsung, Hyundai and Doosan — was selected to build four Korean-design AP1400 reactors. The determining factor was bidding price.

An April 2010 report by the Korea Economic Institute stated that “in winning the contract to build four reactors in the UAE, the Korean-led consortium was able to underbid competitors from the United States, Japan, and France.” Whether the government-backed Korean consortium can continue to make such low bids remains to be seen.

The first reactor is expected to be on line in 2017. All four reactors are expected to be operational by 2020. The reactors will be built at Braka, a coastal location, with construction set to begin in 2012. The UAE wants to use one technology for its country’s nuclear fleet. Korea Electric Power has a 60-year contract to operate the reactors. (World Nuclear Association) There have been rumors that Korea Electric Power Company will be awarded a second contract with the UAE to build four additional reactors, but so far there has not been any confirmation or official information to support these claims.

While the UAE has contracted with Korea and has indicated its preference for its fleet to be of a standardized design, it does have nuclear cooperative agreements with other countries with established nuclear energy programs — the United States, Japan, France and the United Kingdom. 

Skilled Workforce Development
The UAE must develop a skilled workforce to operate and maintain its nuclear program. Several international initiatives are in place to help the UAE train technical and engineering staff.

Japan and the United States are contributing to the UAE’s training program. Japanese and U.S. representatives serve on the UAE’s International Advisory Board, an independent body of nine high-profile experts in nuclear energy-related fields.

Takuya Hattori, President of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, and Ambassador Thomas Graham, Executive Chairman of Light Bride Corporation-USA, will offer their expertise to help educate new nuclear workers on safeguards and security protocols. 

Leadership Profile: Mr. Takuya Hattori

  • Member of the UAE International Advisory Board
  • President of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF)
  • President of JAIF International Cooperation Center
  • Former Executive Vice President of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Inc. (TEPCO)
  • Frequent Contributor to the U.S.-Japan Roundtable: Speaker at the 2010 and 2011 Conferences in Washington, D.C

In addition, United States-based Sandia National Laboratory and the Nuclear Science and Policy Institute at Texas A&M are engaged with the Gulf Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Institute (GNEII) — which is affiliated with Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research — to train scientists and engineers.
View the full report: (PDF file page 7)