MENA: high expectations for nuclear projects

Four countries in the Middle East and North Africa are moving ahead with nuclear power programmes. What progress has been made and what can we expect in 2015?

KACARE Vice President, Dr. Waleed Hussein Abulfaraj (R) and Korean Ambassador to the Kingdom, Mr. Jin-Soo Kim (L)

By Heba Hashem

The United Arab Emirates is by far the most advanced Arab state in pursuing nuclear energy, with the first of four units nearly 61% complete and on track to connect to the grid in 2017, and the second more than 50% complete to enter operation in 2018.

Barakah: progress and contracts exceeding expectations

Several accomplishments were made this year in the UAE’s Barakah nuclear power plant – critical components were installed in Unit 1, including the reactor vessel and condenser, and the license for constructing Units 3 and 4 was granted to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) by the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), kicking off concrete pouring.

Such a license allows ENEC to import equipment and technology exclusively for the construction of the reactors, but to operate them, it will have to apply for a separate license. FANR expects to receive the application for operating Units 1 and 2 by next year.

UAE firms are already cashing in from the nuclear new build - as much as $1.7bn worth of contracts has been awarded over the last two years to local suppliers, whose numbers have exceeded 1,000, according to Mohamed Al Hammadi, CEO of ENEC. Companies benefitting locally include DESON Engineers, National Marine Dredging Company, Emirates Steel, and Ducab.

“Many more opportunities lie ahead for UAE companies that are committed to instilling nuclear quality standards across their organization,” says Al Hammadi. “Ours is a long-term driven partnership and involves many different industrial sectors: from construction to operations and maintenance.”

A new supplier registration portal now enables companies to be included in ENEC’s commercial directory and participate in tender opportunities.

“Many of our suppliers of non-nuclear grade materials are also suppliers to other industries,” Al Hammadi notes. “In order to contract for our programmee, we have worked with companies in the UAE to enhance their quality and safety policies and procedures to meet some of the highest standards in the world.”

ENEC expects the four APR-1400 reactors to provide the UAE with 5,400 MW of energy, enough to supply a quarter of the country’s electricity needs.

Saudi Arabia prepares for regulatory body

Saudi Arabia comes after the UAE, as plans to construct 16 nuclear reactors to generate 17 GWe by 2032 have yet to materialize. Nevertheless, King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE) had an intensive year of discussions ahead of its large-scale programme.

While K.A.CARE officials visited South Korea and Canada – the latter where they toured the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, McMaster University’s Nuclear Research Center, and Candu Nuclear Reactors Company – K.A.CARE hosted several officials, including South Korea and Kazakstan’s ambassadors to the kingdom, and Argentina’s foreign minister.

Important agreements were also signed this year on cooperation mechanisms to support the Saudi nuclear program – with France’s AREVA and EDF, the Chinese National Nuclear Energy Company, and Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC).

Perhaps the most critical step taken in 2014 was to start the process of setting up the Saudi Arabian Regulatory Atomic Authority, which K.A.CARE did by entering into a multi-year agreement with Finland’s Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK).

K.A.CARE also intends to establish a nuclear holding company by mid-2015, which would sign joint-venture agreements with foreign companies to operate nuclear sites, according to The National.

Potential technology partners are understood to include GE Hitachi, Toshiba/Westinghouse, AREVA and EDF, and other groups that have expressed interest in bidding for contracts, such as a South Korean consortium led by the International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan Company and Russia’s Rosatum.

In recognition of the kingdom’s efforts in adopting nuclear energy, the country was elected to the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for two years, during the 58th General Conference of the IAEA last September.

Jordan, Egypt: a common vision

Egypt is 10 times larger in size than Jordan and has 12 times its population, but given that Jordan lacks indigenous fossil fuel resources its electricity costs are about 10 times higher than Egypt.

Both, therefore, are in desperate need of additional power sources – and both have faced considerable delays in their nuclear new build programmes.

It makes perfect sense then for the two nations to join hands, a possibility now under discussion following the recent visit made by Egypt’s deputy minister of electricity and renewable energy, Hassan Hassanein, and the Egyptian Nuclear Energy Authority, to Jordan.

Egypt would be the third country after Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with Jordan, which is now pushing for two 1060 MWe VVER light water reactors to bring online by 2021 and 2025.

Having selected Rosatom in 2013 as the preferred bidder to construct the two units, JAEC finally signed the agreement in Moscow last September. The Russian nuclear company will also conduct comprehensive studies that will cover the environmental impact assessment and projected costs.

Egypt waiting to revive programme

Egypt, on the other hand, is awaiting the new president’s decision to revive its nuclear power programme. Once the anticipated approval comes, a global tender would be launched for the construction of a new pressurized water reactor.

The main bid invitation specifications, according to Dr. Ibrahim Al-Osery, nuclear affairs and energy adviser at the Minister of Electricity, is that the project is carried out on a turnkey basis, that the technology is third generation or higher, and that it is based on a proven design. The bid must also include a financial offer covering 85% of foreign supplies and 15% of local supplies, and will require a minimum 20% local participation.

The vision is for Egypt to have four to eight stations, each with a capacity of 900-1,650 MW, and the location would be the same site of Dabaa, which has been studied for many years.

Korea is apparently entering the market in full force. A two-day “Korean Industry Roadshow” held in recent weeks in Cairo brought a handful of industry giants to Egypt, including Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, and Daewoo Engineering & Construction – all promoting the export of Korean nuclear technology to Egypt.

Moreover, KEPCO has already secured an MoU with Arab Contractors, one of Egypt’s largest builders, gaining a competitive advantage over other nations in the country’s nuclear market.

As with the UAE, Jordan and Egypt have high expectations for nuclear – JAEC indicated that the two planned reactors could provide the country with electricity at one-third the current rate, while Al Osery believes nuclear energy could provide as much as 50% of Egypt’s electricity.