The first of four nuclear reactors at the Barakah plant in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was completed in late March, a milestone both for the UAE and for South Korea, which supplied the APR-1400 pressurized water reactor.
The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant (Figure 1) is the first nuclear plant in the UAE, and it marks the first time South Korea has exported its nuclear technology. The first APR-1400 entered commercial operation as Unit 3 at the Shin Kori site in South Korea in 2016. The Barakah plant will have generation capacity of about 5,600 MW with all four units in service.
A March 26 ceremony marked the culmination of a nine-year process to build the first nuclear plant in the Arab world. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. (ENEC) in December 2009 awarded the construction contract, estimated at about $20 billion, to a consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO). Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the ceremony at Barakah to mark the completion of Unit 1.
“This is a historic moment in our nation’s development as we celebrate the construction completion of Unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant,” bin Zayed told WAM, the UAE’s official news agency. “The UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program will play a strategic role in the growth of our nation by enhancing our energy security, diversifying our economy, and creating employment opportunities for our people, thereby helping secure the future of generations to come.”
The APR-1400 reactor has an expected operating life of 60 years. For Barakah, the reactor’s design has been adapted for the UAE’s extreme heat. Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chairman of ENEC, told WAM “This milestone is a testament to the vision and commitment of the UAE’s leadership and the strength of ENEC’s partnership with our prime contractor and joint venture partner, KEPCO. Now, our focus is on the transition to the safe start-up of Unit 1 nuclear operations.”
Construction continues on the other three APR-1400 units at the site, which is located in the Dhafrah region of Abu Dhabi. According to ENEC, Unit 2 was more than 92% complete at the end of March. Unit 3 was about 81% complete, and Unit 4 was about 67% complete. Construction of all four units is expected to be complete by 2020.
Pre-operational tests, including cold hydrostatic testing, structural integrity testing, integrated leak rate testing, and hot functional testing, have been completed on Unit 1. The next phase is loading of fuel into the reactor, which will begin after Nawah Energy Co., the plant’s operator, receives the operating license from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). Bloomberg reported that fuel loading is expected to begin this month, though no date has been set for Unit 1 to begin commercial operation.
The UAE’s Ministry of Energy and Industry estimates the nuclear plant will eliminate at least 21 million metric tons of carbon emissions from the country’s power generation each year. Current UAE generation comes almost entirely from natural gas-fired power plants; the country has said it wants to transition to generation almost entirely from nuclear and solar power.
—Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor.