His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces with South Korean President, Moon Jae-in during the latter’s visit to the UAE in 2018 Image Credit: Supplied

The Korean nuclear industry took its first step into the development of nuclear projects internationally in December 2009, when it won a contract to construct a nuclear energy plant in the Al Dhafra Region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, 290 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi city.

The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant became the first overseas nuclear project for Korea, with the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) forming Team Korea. The consortium of South Korean nuclear engineering firms included KEPCO E&C, Korea Nuclear Fuel, Hyundai Engineering & Construction, Samsung C&T Corporation, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power and Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, all of whom have extensive nuclear experience accumulated through the construction and operation of more than 20 nuclear power plants in South Korea.

The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant Image Credit: Pcture: ENEC

Team Korea went on to form specific project teams, to commence the Barakah project in June 2010, with oversight from its owner and developer, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC).

In 2016, KEPCO and ENEC signed a Joint Venture Agreement to support the continued development of the plant and its long-term operations, further building on their strong relationship. The JV agreement led to the creation of two subsidiaries; Nawah Energy Company (Nawah), in charge of operating and maintaining the Barakah Plant, and Barakah One Company, responsible for the financial and commercial aspects of the Barakah project.

Throughout the past decade, Team Korea, led by KEPCO, has worked in close collaboration with ENEC to advance the development of the four-unit Barakah Plant, ensuring it meets all regulatory requirements and international standards for nuclear safety and quality. As a result, the UAE’s independent nuclear regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), issued the Operating License for Unit 1 of the Barakah plant on February 17, 2020.

The first fuel assemblies were successfully loaded on March 3, 2020, followed by the start-up of the reactor in late July 2020 and its connection to the UAE grid in August 2020, when the first megawatts of clean electricity were delivered to the Nation. Currently, Power Ascension Testing (PAT) is underway at Unit 1, with power levels safely and steadily being raised over a number of months. Once the unit achieves full power, the generation levels will then be safely lowered as part of the continued testing. Once the reactor is shut down, what is known as a check outage will take place, to enable nuclear engineers to run a series of final tests in preparation for commercial operations, scheduled for 2021.

Meanwhile, with construction activities completed, Unit 2 is now undergoing operational readiness preparations by Nawah, laying the groundwork for receipt of the Operating License from FANR. Alongside these activities, the construction of Units 3 and 4 is progressing steadily and both units are in the final stages of completion.

60 years of know-how

The technology at the heart of the Barakah Plant is the Advanced Power Reactor 1400 (APR 1400) which was developed over the course of a decade, starting in 1992, and is the most advanced 1,400MW light water reactor, a culmination of 60 years of know-how built by the Korean nuclear industry. It features improved digital control equipment across the Man-Machine Interface System (MMIS), state-of-the-art human factor engineering to minimise human errors, and has been significantly enhanced over the years to ensure safe and reliable operations. The adoption of modular construction methods, where applicable, has also helped reduce the total construction time and enhance the safety and economics of the plant remarkably.

The APR1400 reactor design has been certified by multiple independent national nuclear regulators, namely the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS), FANR in the UAE, and most recently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the US, demonstrating that it adheres to robust international safety standards. The design safety of the APR1400 was further validated through its endorsement by the European Utility Requirements in 2017, and countries in Eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic and Poland, have expressed their interest in the Korean model.

The APR1400 design is the same technology used at KEPCO’s Shin Kori 3 and 4 units, which have been safely and efficiently operating since 2016 and 2019 respectively, with two further APR1400 units currently being constructed.

When all four APR1400 units are operational, the Barakah Plant will supply up to 25 per cent of the UAE’s electricity for at least 60 years. KEPCO is taking part in this monumental national project, not just as a prime contractor but as a true partner. This collaborative approach will continue as the Barakah Plant becomes operational, and new opportunities to work together in the future are identified.

For Team Korea, this has been an extremely rewarding project, working together to deliver on the “One Team, One Goal” mission with colleagues across ENEC, Nawah and Barakah One Company from 50 nations to develop the Barakah Plant in accordance with the highest national regulatory requirements and international safety and quality standards. Team Korea has succeeded through the strong drive and determination of the Korean leadership and the country’s talented people working in the UAE and supporting from South Korea.

In 2020, the year that marks the 40th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between the UAE and the Republic of Korea, it is even more meaningful to have successfully started up Unit 1 of the Barakah Plant in the very same year. The plant contains within it the efforts of South Korea and the UAE, and we are confident that it will make a tremendous mutual contribution to the economic growth, sustainability and cultural prosperity of both nations through close cooperation on this journey to supply clean, safe and reliable electricity to the UAE.