Nuclear, Reactors

Q&A: Nuclear Projects in the United Arab Emirates

Issue 5 and Volume 9.

Mohamed Al Hammadi, CEO, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation

By Sharryn Dotson, Editor

Q: Considering the unique environment in which these nuclear plants are being built, what are some of the challenges you have had to overcome? Do you have to have different or special equipment or plant parts that can withstand the conditions (i.e., special cranes, modified reactor designs, or other equipment)?

A: The UAE is home to some of the world’s most advanced energy projects and, as such, has unique expertise in constructing large-scale energy projects in the climatic conditions of this region, while delivering them in line with the highest standards of safety and quality.

Building a nuclear energy facility anywhere in the world is a significant venture and a commitment to safety, first and foremost, is of the utmost importance. Here in the UAE, we’re striving for the gold standard, a high benchmark of operational transparency and excellence, for our peaceful nuclear energy program.

For the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) selected the highly advanced APR-1400 reactor, designed by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) – the Prime Contractor on this project. Taking into account our nation’s expertise in constructing energy projects in these climatic conditions, we opted to make several upgrades to the design in order to counter the effects of higher temperatures, drier air and high volumes of airborne sand and dust.

These modifications include:

  • Larger pumps, heat exchangers and pipes to increase the water flow rate of the cooling systems to deal with the higher seawater temperatures in the Gulf;
  • A modified breakwater to ensure that the discharge and intake structures are at an increased distance from each other to avoid recirculation of warmer water;
  • Seawater intake and plant cooling systems designed to ensure compliance with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi’s (EAD) standards for changes in Gulf water temperature near the plants;
  • More ventilation and air conditioning to counter the effects of higher temperatures, drier air and high volumes of airborne sand and dust; and
  • A refined intake screen design to help protect local fish populations during operations.

Q: How are the nuclear plants progressing?

A: We are continuing to make progress toward delivering all four units at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant by 2020, and I am proud of the significant milestones that we have achieved to date. With four identical nuclear reactors under simultaneous construction, we are celebrating significant achievements on a regular basis.

As of August 2016, Unit 1 is 90 percent complete and Unit 2 is 75 percent complete. Units 3 and 4 are 59 percent and 30 percent complete, respectively. Thanks to our structured approach to project management, the development of an agile organization and our close collaboration with KEPCO, we have delivered all project milestones in adherence to the highest standards of safety and quality.

Q: How do you mitigate issues with cooling water supply?

A: We are building our nuclear energy facility based on the best practices and expertise of the global industry, as well as the unique expertise of the UAE in large-scale energy projects. This approach has been vital to the success of our project and played an important role in identifying and implementing the enhancements that needed to be made to the reactor design to accommodate the climate in the UAE and the specifications of the Barakah site.

Several of the modifications that we made to the design are to adapt to the higher temperature of the water used for cooling. We are using seawater, which provides us with an inexhaustible supply, but also creates its own challenges. To ensure the seawater is properly cooled upon its release from the plant, we are using larger pumps, heat exchangers and pipes that increase the flow rate of the cooling systems. EAD has specified the environmental requirements for the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant and we are committed to constructing and to operating our plant in adherence to their regulations.

Q: Are there any plans for other nuclear power plants?

A: The development of a peaceful nuclear energy program in the UAE represents an ambitious and exciting undertaking. We are currently focused on delivering the four units at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant with the goal of providing nearly a quarter of the UAE’s electricity needs by 2020 with almost no greenhouse gas emissions.

The investment that the UAE is making in this nuclear energy facility is helping to drive the growth of a new major, high-tech, knowledge-based industry and the development of a qualified chain of local suppliers. We look forward to sharing the insights and experience we are gaining with other countries that are interested in exploring their energy options and building peaceful nuclear energy facilities.

Q: Have you been able to apply lessons learned from the first unit to construction of subsequent units?

A: Nuclear energy facility construction around the world builds on operating experience. This extends beyond simply taking the lessons learned from building Barakah Unit 1, but also those learned from the project’s reference plant in South Korea. In fact, the construction license application for Units 3 and 4 at Barakah is around 1,000 pages longer than the application for Units 1 and 2, reflecting the experience and knowledge gained throughout the process of answering requests for further information and clarification that we receive from the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation.

More importantly, Unit 1 is the first nuclear reactor in the UAE and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. It serves as a basis and sets the benchmark for the other three units we are building and they have benefited greatly from the lessons learned while constructing it. Our focus on ensuring the highest quality standards at Unit 1 also means that ENEC is setting the standard for all future nuclear energy projects in the region and perhaps even around the world. Our aim is to have more than a functional nuclear reactor – we want to have the most reliable energy plant for the entire duration of its operational lifetime.


Q&A: South Africa’s Plans for More Nuclear

By Sharryn Dotson

South Africa relies heavily on coal-fired generation, but an increase in power demand coupled with a need to lower emissions is pushing officials to explore many types of baseload power to keep the lights on. The country is part of the Southern African Power Pool, which has a total installed generating capacity of 54.7 GW, with 80 percent of that in South Africa, according to information from the World Nuclear Association. State utility Eskom supplies about 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity and about 45 percent of Africa’s, WNA said. Coal-fired generation accounts for 34.3 GW and nuclear for 1.8 GW. The utility says the country needs 40 GW of new generation by 2025, with about half of that coming from nuclear, but financial troubles led to delays in building any new power generation.

Figure 1 – South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plans Calls for 9.6 GW of Nuclear by 2030.

Two nuclear reactors, the 930-MW Koeberg 1 and the 900-MW Koeberg 2, have been in operation since 1984 and 1985, respectively. They are scheduled for closure in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

Knox Msebenzi, managing director of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA), discussed the next steps to potentially building new nuclear plants, any plans to restart development of the pebble bed reactor, and nuclear cooperation agreements with international companies.

1. Why is South Africa looking to potentially build nuclear power plants compared to natural gas or coal to help meet electricity shortages?

The South African Department of Energy conducted a study to determine the optimal way to make the country have adequate electrical power supply. A study was done and the results were published in the IRP 2010-2030. The approach that was adopted by the government was to have an energy mix, consisting of all forms of energy available to South Africa. There was emphasis on increase in both renewable energy and nuclear and target reduction of coal to mitigate against climate change in terms of SA’s commitment to the reduction of carbon emissions, in terms of the COP21 commitments. Coal will continue to play a role in power generation as ‘clean coal’. Gas explorations in the Karoo are underway and the department has stated that this could be a game changer if the harvesting of it can be done economically and sustainably. The approach taken by the government is that of a basket of energy sources rather than just one form.

2. Do you think the country will restart development of the pebble bed reactor, or will another advanced reactor technology be used, such as small modular reactors?

The decision about what technology to use lies with the government officials based on the research they did and at this point in time, there is no indication that the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor will be resurrected. There are also big picture considerations in terms of government policy. The government has made it very clear that it wants to strengthen the nuclear industry and maximise localisation so that even if the technology is outsourced from outside the country, the revival of the nuclear industry is facilitated. Small modular reactors will most likely play a role in the future as the technology is proven. The nuclear regulator has made it clear that it will not recommend a first of a kind technology deployment and since there are no reference plants at this stage, it is highly unlikely that these new technologies will be considered.

3. The Koeberg nuclear plant is set to operate until 2024 and 2025. Are there plans for an operating life extension?

Decisions of this nature are influenced by a number of factors and the operator of Koeberg Nuclear Power plant would need to make a business case first to the shareholder then submit a safety case to the nuclear regulator. Other factors that may come into the picture are the comparative costs of new build versus operating life extension of Koeberg. This question is best answered by ESKOM, the operator.

4. France and South Africa extended a long-term cooperation agreement. Is anything in the works with other countries to either assist in the development of nuclear or to build the plants themselves?

The inter-government agreements between countries are common in many industries. Indeed, other agreements with other countries were signed regarding cooperation in nuclear technology. Our understanding is that the Department of Energy will make the call as to how to do the procurement, as there are many models out there. Towards the end of 2014, the Government conducted what they called a ‘vendor parade’ where all the vendors interested in participating in the nuclear build took part on a one on one basis. So far, all the nuclear vendor countries have signed agreements with the South African Government.

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