Reactor schedule one of the quickest

If the first nuclear power plant begins operating in Abu Dhabi about seven years from now, as planned, the project will be notable as the first nuclear generation plant in the Arab world.

The UAE Government is taking into consideration that KEPCO has never built one of its nuclear plants outside South Korea. Seokyong Lee for The National
Powered by automated translation

If the first nuclear power plant begins generating electricity in Abu Dhabi about seven years from now, as planned, the project will be notable as the first nuclear generation plant in the Arab world, but also as one of the fastest built anywhere in the world.

Generating the first kilowatt in such a short a time will require a tightly timed schedule relying on state-of-the-art engineering with little room for errors or problems.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) expects Korean contractors to start pouring the first concrete for its reactor in late 2012 if federal regulators approve a construction licence.

Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), the prime contractor, has said the power plant is to be completed by May 2017, in time to reach full output by the end of that year. The tight schedule is a requirement of Abu Dhabi's electricity planners, who forecast a sharp tightening in supply over the next decade as power consumption continues to grow rapidly and the conventional source for the emirate's power stations - natural gas - runs short.

ENEC's schedule is based on the track record of projects in South Korea, where contractors have built plants in as little as 54 months. KEPCO has said the design picked for the UAE, which is also being built or planned for eight sites in Korea, will shorten construction times by several months.

ENEC's timetable was the result of extensive international consultations, industry assessments and study of "the work necessary to create the infrastructure for a safe, world-class programme", said Padraic Riley, the company's director of external affairs and communications.

"ENEC has built a staff with literally more than 1,000 years of nuclear power experience. We'll be building plants based on a reference plant, which will be completed in advance. And our partner, KEPCO, has a proven record of delivering its plants on schedule.

"Combined, those factors provide us with a high degree of confidence in our schedule."

Some experts warn, however, that the potential for delays must not be underestimated. For example, Christopher Dann, a vice president at Booz & Co, the management consultancy, says the UAE's nuclear regulatory bureaucracy is still in its infancy and KEPCO has never before built one of its plants outside of South Korea.

Mr Dann, who previously helped to plan nuclear power plants in east Asia and the US, said: "What you really want to do is slow down and get it right.

"They are just complex, there's a lot of moving parts, there's a lot of risks to both cost and schedule." There are many examples of lengthy nuclear plant construction: of the seven reactors completed between 2006 and last year, only one, Japan's, took less than five and a half years to build and four stretched to 80 months or more, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

France's EPR, one of the world's most advanced reactor designs, is nearly three years behind schedule at the Olkiluoto site in Finland.

It has become a potent symbol of the many risks that characterise the reactor construction process. Jordan's Atomic Energy Commission has taken such examples into consideration for its own programme, which started a year after the UAE's but does not forecast the completion of a plant until 2019 or 2020, said Kamal Khdier, the commission's director of planning.

Jordan faces larger political and financial hurdles than the UAE, which will complicate its completion schedule. But Jordan was budgeting at least five years for construction alone, plus many additional months for testing and commissioning, Mr Khdier said.

"We are hoping for 2019 or 2020, but it depends - the schedule is always changing," he said.

But ENEC was right to look to Japan and South Korea as its model, said Mr Dann. Projects there have been extremely well planned, he said, leading to shorter construction periods.

"We can build these things on time and on budget. It has been done in Korea and it has been done in Japan," he added.

"With the right planning, and with the right analysis of risks to cost and schedule, it can be achieved." Nuclear planners across the region would be watching ENEC's project intently to see if the nuclear industry could keep to its forecasts for cost and construction time, Mr Dann said.

"If the ENEC programme goes well, or is perceived to start well, I would imagine that demand across the region would really skyrocket," he said.

This story previously quoted a Christopher Mann of Booz & Co. His family name is Dann, not Mann. The National regrets the error.