Tag Archives: UAE nuclear power

From Nuclear Powerhouse to Nuclear Mafia: South Korea

South Korea, which is roughly the size of Indiana, eventually became the most reactor-dense country in the world, with 23 reactors providing about 30% of the country’s total electricity generation…. South Korea’s reactors…are mostly packed into a narrow strip along the densely populated southeastern coast. The density was a way of cutting costs on administration and land acquisition. But putting reactors close to one another—and to large cities—was risky. … 

In December 2009, the UAE had awarded a coalition led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) a $20 billion bid to build the first nuclear power plant in the UAE. Barakah was chosen as the site to build four APR-1400nuclear reactors successively.  In 2012 to Park Geunhye the newly elected president pledged to increase South Korea’s reactor fleet to 39 units by 2035 and making sales trips to potential client states such as the Czech Republic and Saudi Arabia bulding on prior success like the UAE deal mentioned above. …


Barakah under construction in UAE

But on September 21, 2012, officials at Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), a subsidiary of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO),  received an outside tip about illegal activity among the company’s parts suppliers. Eventually, an internal probe had become a full-blown criminal investigation. Prosecutors discovered that thousands of counterfeit parts had made their way into nuclear reactors across the South Korea, backed up with forged safety documents. KHNP insisted the reactors were still safe, but the question remained: was corner-cutting the real reason they were so cheap?

Park Jong-woon, a former manager who worked on reactors at KEPCO and KHNP until the early 2000s, believed so. He had seen that taking shortcuts was precisely how South Korea’s headline reactor, the APR1400, had been built…After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, most reactor builders had tacked on a slew of new safety features.KHNP followed suit but later realized that the astronomical cost of these features would make the APR1400 much too expensive to attract foreign clients.“They eventually removed most of them,” says Park, who now teaches nuclear engineering at Dongguk University. “Only about 10% to 20% of the original safety additions were kept.”  Most significant was the decision to abandon adding an extra wall in the reactor containment building—a feature designed to increase protection against radiation in the event of an accident. “They packaged the APR1400 as ‘new’ and safer, but the so-called optimization was essentially a regression to older standards,” says Park. “Because there were so few design changes compared to previous models, [KHNP] was able to build so many of them so quickly.”

Having shed most of the costly additional safety features, KEPCO was able to dramatically undercut its competition in the UAE bid, a strategy that hadn’t gone unnoticed. After losing Barakah to KEPCO, Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon likened the Korean nuclear plant to a car without airbags and seat belts. At the time Lauvergeon’s comments were dismissed as sour words from a struggling rival.

By the time it was completed in 2014, the KHNP inquiry had escalated into a far-reaching investigation of graft, collusion, and warranty forgery; in total, 68 people were sentenced and the courts dispensed a cumulative 253 years of jail time. Guilty parties included KHNP president Kim Jong-shin, a Kepco lifer, and President Lee Myung-bak’s close aide Park Young-joon, whom Kim had bribed in exchange for “favorable treatment” from the government.

Several faulty parts had also found their way into the UAE plants, angering Emirati officials. “It’s still creating a problem to this day,” Neilson-Sewell, the Canadian advisor to Barakah, told me. “They lost complete faith in the Korean supply chain.”

Excerpts from Max S. Kim,  How greed and corruption blew up South Korea’s nuclear industry, MIT Technology Review, April 22, 2019

Nuclear Power in Abu Dhabi

The Barakah nuclear-power plant under construction in Abu Dhabi will never attract the attention that the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in neighbouring Dubai does, but it is an engineering feat nonetheless. It is using three times as much concrete as the world’s tallest building, and six times the amount of steel. Remarkably, its first reactor may start producing energy in the first half of this year—on schedule and (its South Korean developers insist) on budget. That would be a towering achievement.

In much of the world, building a nuclear-power plant looks like a terrible business prospect. Two recent additions to the world’s nuclear fleet, in Argentina and America, took 33 and 44 years to erect. Of 55 plants under construction, the Global Nuclear Power database reckons almost two-thirds are behind schedule .  The delays lift costs, and make nuclear less competitive with other sources of electricity, such as gas, coal and renewables.

Not one of the two technologies that were supposed to revolutionise the supply of nuclear energy—the European Pressurised Reactor, or EPR, and the AP1000 from America’s Westinghouse—has yet been installed, despite being conceived early this century. In Finland, France and China, all the EPRs under construction are years behind schedule. The main hope for salvaging their reputation—and the nuclear business of EDF, the French utility that owns the technology—is the Hinkley Point C project in Britain, which by now looks a lot like a Hail Mary pass.

Meanwhile, delays with the Westinghouse AP1000 have caused mayhem at Toshiba, its owner. The Japanese firm may announce write-downs in February of up to $6bn on its American nuclear business. As nuclear assets are probably unsellable, it is flogging parts of its core, microchip business instead.

This month, Oregon-based NuScale Power became the first American firm to apply for certification of a small modular reactor (SMR) design with America’s nuclear regulators.

“Clearly the momentum seems to be shifting away from traditional suppliers,” says William Magwood, director-general of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency. Both small and large reactors are required. In places like America and Europe, where electricity demand is growing slowly, there is rising interest in small, flexible ones. In fast-growing markets like China, large nuclear plants make more economic sense.

If the South Koreans succeed with their first foreign nuclear programme in Abu Dhabi, the reason is likely to be consistency. Nuclear accidents such as Three-Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 caused a long hiatus in nuclear construction in America and Europe. But South Korea has invested in nuclear power for four decades, using its own technology since the 1990s, says Lee Jong-ho, an executive at Korea Electric Power (KEPCO), which leads the consortium building Barakah. It does not suffer from the skills shortages that bedevil nuclear construction in the West.

KEPCO always works with the same, familiar suppliers and construction firms hailing from Korea Inc. By contrast, both the EPR and AP1000, first-of-a-kind technologies with inevitable teething problems, have suffered from being contracted out to global engineering firms. Also, South Korea and China both keep nuclear building costs low through repetition and standardisation, says the World Nuclear Association (WNA), an industry group. It estimates that South Korean capital costs have remained fairly stable in the past 20 years, while they have almost tripled in France and America.

Excerpts The nuclear options: How to build a nuclear-power plant, Economist, Jan. 28 2017, at 57

 

For the Fear of Iran: The Nuclear Power in the Gulf

Saudi Arabia is pressing ahead with its ambitious plans to develop nuclear power to meet rising electricity demand and save oil for export.  But the outlook for other Arab states is less promising because of political turmoil and a lack of financial resources.  The Saudis have built a foreign assets cushion of around $500 billion from oil exports. It has used this immense wealth to buy its way out of trouble; for instance, heading off pro-democracy protests with massive social spending in recent years.  But, the Middle East Economic Digest observed, “a more serious set of challenges now faces the kingdom that threaten to be even more destabilizing.  “Inefficient and wasteful energy consumption, coupled with a rising population, is leading the kingdom to burn even more of its natural resources at home rather than selling them abroad and adding to the proceeds of the half-trillion-dollar cash pile.  “Unless action is taken, the kingdom could find it needs the oil price to be $320 a barrel by 2030 just to balance the budget,” the weekly, published in the United Arab Emirates, warned.  Nuclear power is seen as the solution. But, as MEED stressed, “time is of the essence.”

For one thing, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt, have no wish to lag any further behind Iran and Israel in developing nuclear technologies.  In 2010, the King Abdallah Center for Atomic and Renewable Energy, known as KAcare, was established to oversee the gulf state’s nuclear program under its president, Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani, who was accorded ministerial powers.  KAcare consultant Ibrahim Babelli said in 2010 it took 3.4 million barrels of oil equivalent a day — known as boe/d — to power electricity generation. This is expected to more than double by 2028 to 8.3 million boe/d.

The aim of the Saudis’ $100 billion nuclear program is to achieve an electricity output of 110 gigawatts by 2032.  The Financial Times reports that in 2009, the latest data available, Saudi electricity capacity was 52GW from 79 power stations.  At least 16 nuclear reactors, each costing around $7 billion, are planned, with the first producing by 2019.  Some estimates state the kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter, will burn as much as 1.2 million barrels of oil daily on electricity production, almost double the 2010 total, to meet domestic and industrial demand.  This is crucial, as the Saudis are driving to build an industrial infrastructure to sustain the economy when the oil fields run down. Some have already begun to decline.  For total reliance on nuclear power, Babelli says, 40-60 reactors would be needed by 2030. That’s four-six reactors per year from 2020.  “That’s stretching it,” he said. “The answer is an energy mix.”

That means fossil fuels will still be needed, probably as the primary energy source, while wind, solar and nuclear power capabilities are developed. KAcare is developing solar power projects that MEES estimates should produce 41GW within 20 years with geothermal and waste-to-energy systems providing 4GW.  The Emirates, which launched its nuclear energy program in 2009, is the most advanced in the Arab world, with Saudi Arab running second.  The United Arab Emirates’ $30 billion program — $10 billion more than originally planned — is smaller in scale than that in Saudi Arabia.  Both states benefit from political stability and vast financial reserves. Other regional states are less fortunate.

Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan all have announced plans to invest in nuclear energy to crank up electricity generation but all have lagged behind or scrapped their programs because of lack of funds or foreign investment.  “Kuwait has the cash,” MEED reported, “but it’s been through eight governments in the past six years.”  Sunni-ruled Bahrain, an island state neighboring Saudi Arabia, “continues to face destabilizing protests by its majority Shiite population and its budget is already in deficit.”  Egypt remains convulsed by the political turmoil that ensued following the February 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, its economy sagging dangerously.  In Jordan, heavily reliant on foreign aid, parliament recently scrapped nuclear plans as “hazardous and costly.”  Failure to start boosting electricity generation for burgeoning populations in the coming decades almost certainly will mean more political upheavals.

Saudis, Emirates push nuclear power plans, UPI,July 26, 2012