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[Editorial] Great News From the UAE

Posted December. 28, 2009 11:36,   


In 1959, when Korea’s per capita income was just 55 U.S. dollars, President Rhee Syngman established the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute and allocated 420,000 dollars of budget to import the Triga MarkⅡ, the country’s first nuclear reactor for research purposes. Fifty years later, a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corp. signed a contract worth 40 billion dollars with the United Arab Emirates to build four nuclear power plants in the oil-rich country. This is cause for national celebration over Korea’s transformation into a nuclear exporter.

Under the deal, the consortium will build four 1,400-megawatt nuclear reactors by 2020 and provide maintenance and fuel supply over their 60-year lifespan. The contract is the biggest single overseas business deal in Korean history, easily surpassing the one worth 6.3 billion dollars to build a man-made waterway in Libya. The cost of building the UAE reactors will be 20 billion dollars and construction will require some 110,000 workers. Thus, many Korean engineers and workers will likely be sent to work in the Middle East.

As soon as the UAE announced its nuclear plant project, French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Abu Dhabi to sign a bilateral agreement on nuclear technology cooperation and the building of an airbase. A U.S.-Japan consortium also plunged into the bidding war, boasting its advanced technology for uranium enrichment and experience in conducting similar projects. The potential increase in U.S. and French influence in the region, however, made Iran and other neighbors uncomfortable. In addition to geopolitical factors, President Lee Myung-bak’s summit with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan also helped the Korean consortium win the bid.

Korea will export its Advanced Power Reactor 1400, the country’s third-generation nuclear reactor. The country is the world’s first to develop and export its own nuclear reactors in less than 20 years. The winning of the contract is a direct result of Seoul’s consistent nuclear policy. The U.S., the world’s top builder of nuclear power plants, has stopped making them in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Westinghouse Electric, an American company with plenty of core nuclear technologies, is now a unit of Toshiba Corp. of Japan.

The UAE will be the first Mideast country to build nuclear reactors. It is significant that a country where oil is cheaper than water is aggressively investing in nuclear power, which emits no carbon dioxide. The World Nuclear Association says more than 430 nuclear reactors worth one trillion dollars will be built worldwide. The global race to land reactor contracts has just begun.

Korea must do its best to build the four nuclear plants in the UAE, and make nuclear technology one of the country’s leading exports along with shipbuilding, semiconductors and mobile phones.