More than four decades ago, Korean contractors first helped build the bridges connecting Abu Dhabi island to the mainland. Today new bridges of a different kind are being constructed – ones forged on the anvil of the future and based on mutual trust and shared interests in energy security, tourism and health care. That relationship is symbolised by the flags of the UAE and South Korea fluttering in unison outside the headquarters of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, the organisation set up in 2008 to help in the diversification away from a reliance on hydrocarbons.
Yesterday, ties between the two nations took a significant leap forward with the completion of the UAE's first nuclear reactor. The $20 billion Barakah power plant in Al Dhafra, 300 kilometres from Abu Dhabi, is the first of its kind in the Arab world. A decade in the making, work first began when a South Korean consortium won a contract to build the plant. From 2021, its four reactors will be able to produce an estimated 5,600 megawatts of power, contributing one quarter of this country's electricity capacity.
But Barakah's importance transcends power generation. It is the cornerstone of future energy security, in line with the UAE Energy Plan for 2050. For Ruwais, the plant's nearest town, it will bring in substantial investment and infrastructure. Following a training scheme for young Emiratis, it has already provided numerous jobs and more than $3bn in contracts to local companies. This landmark construction project of gargantuan proportions also heralds a new dawn in this country's economic diversification, charting a course for future generations. Nuclear power is enormously productive, with one pellet of uranium equivalent to 471 litres of oil. Yet it also carries significant risks. Security and safety must be paramount when all four reactors are activated, as is a plan to dispose of the waste produced by the plant. Early indications suggest they will be.
The plant's completion comes within the context of South Korean President Moon Jae-in's four-day visit to the UAE, his first to the region since his election last year. South Korea has long provided a dependable market for the UAE's crude oil, creating a stable partnership over time. Mr Moon's successful visit is the latest sign of longstanding ties, which were further marked yesterday by Adnoc awarding contracts worth $3.5bn to South Korea's Samsung Engineering, responsible for processing hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil per day. Today it was announced that the Korea Energy Agency and Masdar will be discussing joint solar and wind projects. Beyond the energy sphere, South Korean scientists have contributed to the UAE's space exploration ambitions, including the KhalifaSat. With a 2016 agreement ensuring visa-free travel, more than 200,000 Koreans visit this country every year.
The UAE is successfully working to diversify its economy away from oil dependence. Cultivating other energy sources – to power the country and potentially export to foreign markets – is at the crux of those efforts. So too is sustaining mutually beneficial relationships with international partners. The Barakah nuclear power plant accomplishes both.