Nuclear power key focus of UAE-South Korea ties, ambassador says

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ABU DHABI // Nuclear power will be a focus of South Korea’s relations with the UAE, the country’s new ambassador said, with more Korean experts expected to arrive at Barakah as part of a new agreement.

Park Kang-ho, who arrived in Abu Dhabi in May, said more South Korean nuclear experts were expected to settle at Barakah next year to prepare for the operation of the country’s first nuclear reactor.

“I visited the plant twice so far and I will pay full attention to its successful launch,” he said.

“It is the first time Korea exports its nuclear power plant and it is quite an important partnership.”

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) signed an agreement with South Korea this week to send experienced nuclear personnel, including main control room and local operators, to the Western Region plant.

“After completion of the nuclear power plant, we need to upgrade the personnel in Barakah,” Mr Park said.

“At first, Korean professionals will come to work with Emirati professionals for the operation. There are already some, but next year 200 to 300 more will come.”

Once the technology is transferred to Emirati staff, the hope is that the plant will operate with local personnel.

“It’s like a handover. In 2020, the number will start decreasing as the four units will be complete,” he said.

“The nuclear power plant is very sophisticated, and it takes time to transfer technology because safety and security is our top priority.”

South Korea is a crucial partner for the UAE, experts said, particularly in nuclear power.

“It is a Korean reactor that is the reference plant for the Abu Dhabi new nuclear plant, and the Koreans have been partners in not only the construction, but the training of operators and the preparation for the opening of the plant,” said Lady Barbara Judge, former head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

She said Korea had extensive nuclear expertise.

“They have been building nuclear power plants in their country very successfully and they are looking at Abu Dhabi as their first power plant to be sold outside Korea,” she said.

“But they expect it to be the first of many. They put all the effort of the state behind it, and it is government to government, which is why it has worked out so well.”

South Korean universities also have strong bonds with academia, such as Khalifa University’s partnership with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist). Kaist professors were sent to the university in 2010 and 2011 to support nuclear laboratory academic and research programmes.

“This link with Kaist ensures that we get first-hand insight and knowledge about the engineering design intent and technology development,” said Dr Philip Beeley, the university’s head of nuclear engineering.

“Korea has a well-established nuclear power industry. They have developed a comprehensive capability for supporting all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including the highest quality of nuclear safety and research.”

Health care will be another focus for Mr Park, with seven Korean hospitals operating in the UAE and 300 Korean medical experts here.

“We are considering setting up a new medical facility in the UAE,” Mr Park said. “Last year, 3,000 Emirati patients visited Korea to get medical treatment, up from 2,600 in 2014.”

He believes the countries have many things in common, given their rapid economic growth since the 1970s.

“Since my arrival in Abu Dhabi, the people of the UAE have made me feel like I am at home,” he said. “I was also very impressed with the UAE’s preparation for the post-oil era through the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030, instead of depending only on fossil fuel.”