UAE's Emirate Nuclear Energy Corp may develop more nuclear power plants locally and internationally in the future after bringing online all of the four 1.4 GW units that are currently planned, its CEO told S&P Global Commodity Insights.
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The UAE, the only Arab country currently producing nuclear energy for power generation, is operating two out of four units at the Barakah nuclear power plant in the western region of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. ENEC will bring the remaining two online once it receives the operating license from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, or FANR.
"We have to make sure also we get our four units operational fully then it will be the right time to look [for other opportunities]," Mohamed al-Hammadi said in an interview on March 1. "We are also in business. We are always open for opportunities; we are always studying the market across many areas of the business."
ENEC has received interest from many countries to partner with them on the development of nuclear power generation, he added, without disclosing the name of the countries.
The UAE, OPEC's third biggest producer, is developing nuclear power as it seeks to reduce its carbon footprint after committing to have zero emissions by 2050, the first country in the Middle East to make such a pledge.
Barakah-1 started commercial operations in April 2021, after reaching 100% of capacity in December 2020. Barakah-2 was connected to the grid in September 2021 following its start-up in August 2021 and has been undergoing testing while raising power levels.
Commercial operations at Barakah-2 are expected to commence "soon," Hammadi said, without disclosing a specific timeline.
The construction of unit 3 is complete, while heavy construction at unit 4 is done.
FANR expects to issue the operating license for the third reactor in 2022 and for the fourth unit probably a year later, its director general Christer Viktorsson said Feb. 23.
Nawah Energy Co., the operations and maintenance unit of ENEC, might take a year after the issuing of the operating license and loading of the first nuclear fuel to start commercial operations, Viktorsson added at the time.
ENEC may develop other nuclear power plants in the UAE, depending on the country's needs and revision of its energy mix, Hammadi said.
2050 energy mix
Under a strategy revealed in 2017, the UAE is targeting to generate 44% of its power from renewables, 38% from gas, 12% from clean coal and 6% from nuclear energy by 2050. The UAE mainly uses gas for power generation currently.
"The energy mix will continue to be studied and will be based on economics," said Hammadi.
Besides the planned four units, the current site of Barakah can accommodate three to four more nuclear reactors, depending on the future technology to be used, he added.
Each of the four units in Barakah are South Korean-designed APR1400.
"We are leaving all options open to pick any future technology we can install in Barakah," he said.
Hammadi said they can cater for all technologies and can build at Barakah reactors with capacities of 1 GW plus. "We did that investment, small investment, a little bit of pipes and civil infrastructure to cater for more units in the future," he said.
Small modular reactors
ENEC also has other potential sites in the UAE where nuclear power plants can be built, but the preferred location is Barakah due to low seismic activity in the area.
"When we did the site selection for Barakah, we had also potential for other sites that's something we can keep for our generations to come to have enough infrastructure," he said.
"For multiple reasons, one of them is the geological one, it was preferred to have them in Abu Dhabi and in the western region of Abu Dhabi because of the seismic activity."
Other areas in the UAE, which is a seven-member federation, can also be chosen to build small modular reactors, if the technology is tried and tested. Abu Dhabi, where Barakah is located, is the biggest emirate in the UAE.
"With future technologies there's what they call small modular reactors, these are not built yet...there is potential to build them in other places [in the UAE]," Hammadi said.
ENEC is also interested in working with government entities to help produce hydrogen either through providing electricity or heat, which is the more efficient choice, he said.
ENEC has signed an agreement with Électricité de France to invest in research and development of low-carbon hydrogen.
The UAE is targeting a 25% global market share of low-carbon hydrogen by 2030 with the launch of its "hydrogen leadership roadmap" at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2021.