Abu Dhabi power plant will have higher safety standards

Korean firms will include higher safety standard than previous designs, such as the ability to withstand an aeroplane crash, Korean nuclear officials say.

SEOUL // The nuclear reactor to be built by Korean firms for Abu Dhabi will meet a higher safety standard than previous designs, including the ability to withstand an aeroplane crash, Korean nuclear officials said yesterday. The reactor will compete head-to-head on all levels with advanced designs from other countries, said Byun Jun-yeon, the executive vice president of Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), the prime contractor on the project.

The reactor, he said, would be the "most safe and most powerful" plant in the world. South Korea's nuclear plants have repeatedly recorded the lowest rate of emergency shutdowns in the world, a record due in large part to highly standardised design and operating procedures, said Dr Kim Shin-whan, a nuclear engineer and manager of the business development team at Korea Power Engineering Company, a subsidiary of KEPCO.

"Capacity factor is not only a measure of economics, but it is also a measure of safety," he said. "Doing something conceptually and actually preventing it are different things." To cope with emergencies, the design includes layers of increasingly drastic defensive measures, the first of which is designed to preserve the commercial viability of the reactor and the last to prevent a melted reactor core from releasing radiation into the environment.

To reduce the chances of a catastrophic accident, the design reduces the amount of decisions that need to be made by humans in emergencies, Dr Kim said. The two most notorious examples in nuclear safety history, the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the US and the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine - then a part of the Soviet Union - involved human error. Dr Kim noted that in the APR-1400 reactor, the design that will be built in Abu Dhabi, four nozzles will automatically spray water on to the reactor core if it overheats and threatens a meltdown. The previous design supplied the water through the main nozzle for the reactor, meaning it was vulnerable to blockage or a failure of the main water pumps, he said.

The UAE design will also be strengthened to be able to resist the impact of an aeroplane crash, said Padraic Riley, the director of communications at the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC). "ENEC's contract calls for KEPCO to deliver an enhanced APR-1400, one that will be designed, engineered, built and operated to meet the latest international regulatory requirements concerning safety, including those for aircraft impact resistance," he said.