Nuclear power investment potential grows

19 January 2023
Talk of nuclear power projects in GCC states and South Korea overshadowed other clean energy schemes announced at Abu Dhabi forum

Jennifer Aguinaldo
Energy & technology editor

Abu Dhabi’s plan to invest up to $30bn in South Korea’s energy and defence industries nearly overshadowed every other deal announced during this week’s World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

The overall plan entails investing in South Korea's nuclear power, defence, hydrogen and solar energy industries.   

However, the plan to deepen the two countries' nuclear cooperation gained the most attention.

A memorandum of understanding called the Net-Zero Acceleration Strategic Cooperation was signed by Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) and Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec). It aims to "expand practical cooperation in the field of developing export markets for nuclear power plants in third countries and joint procurement of business finance".

Other areas of cooperation include future technology development and joint research, such as small modular and micro-reactors.

Korea's Nuclear Safety & Security Commission (NSSC) also signed an administrative agreement with the UAE's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) that will lead to a simplified nuclear export permit procedure between the two countries.

This development confirms some analysts’ expectation that the $100bn US-UAE Partnership for Accelerating Clean Energy (Pace) announced in November will primarily support the UAE's nuclear energy pivot.

It also comes months after South Korea said it plans to expand its nuclear power generation capacity from 27 per cent to close to 35 per cent by 2036  in a bid to cut reliance on coal and in line with its 2050 net-zero carbon emission target.

Coincidentally, South Korean contractor Kepco is understood to be among two or three companies that are eyeing the contract to build Saudi Arabia's first large-scale nuclear power plant, potentially a 2.8GW facility.

The other entities that are understood to be interested in the Saudi nuclear contract include China National Nuclear Corporation and Russia's Rosatom.

These intercontinental, government-to-government nuclear energy projects are expected to play a major role in the ongoing energy transition, but equally, they will enhance each participating country's energy and national security clout.   

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