Room for growth in the UAE’s nuclear sectorFebruary 25, 2021
Abdulhamid Nassouri, chairman of Emirates Nuclear & Systems Services (ENSS), talks to The Energy Year about growing opportunities in the nuclear energy sector and the need for local support. ENSS is an Abu Dhabi-based joint venture between Nama Development Enterprises and Assystem which aims to provide engineering services and training in the nuclear sector.
What kind of opportunities are available in the UAE’s nuclear energy sector?
Nuclear energy is a viable and safe option, especially considering climate change. It will inevitably become a requirement in many countries. The nuclear family is currently small and we all must look after each other regardless of the country.
Given the sector’s size and scope, business opportunities are huge in the UAE. The nuclear sector is open and those who come first will have the advantage. The industry will last at least 60 years; it is a long-term investment that takes time. Outside of business opportunities, these ventures also support the country’s goals and economy. Opportunities can be found in instrumentation and control, electrical and mechanical works, turbines, nuclear activation analysis and hot workshops for repair and maintenance.
You worked as chief commercial officer at Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) during the construction of the Barakah nuclear plant. What hurdles need to be overcome to commence operations at this plant?
Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation secured a huge commercial advantage at the Barakah nuclear plant when we awarded the contract to a South Korean company. Although it had built many plants, KEPCO [Korean Electric Power Corporation] had never built units overseas. They offered a great price to step into the international market, which helped us in securing a great price for our units.
My approach at that time was to concentrate on quality, safety and on-time delivery. During construction, one can be relaxed because experts and materials come from outside. However, commercial operation of the first unit was postponed because we could not compromise on safety and quality. Unfortunately, we are in 2021 and the project has still not reached commercial operation. However, this I believe will be achieved shortly.
Despite the huge commercial advantage, operation and maintenance can become expensive due to lack of local support services and supplies. Shipping equipment all the way to and from Korea or Europe to be repaired is time consuming and difficult. Irradiated equipment is expensive to ship because it requires special containers. I personally believe that a major problem with the UAE’s nuclear programme is that there is not enough concentration on the nuclear local supply chain.
Can you give us an overview of ENSS’ operations?
ENSS was established in 2018 to fill in the gap of local manpower, expertise, engineering and supplies in the nuclear sector. I know that ENEC’s goal is to encourage local companies to get in contact with overseas companies and convince them to set up joint ventures in the UAE. Local companies have know-how, local presence and familiarity with rules and legalities, whereas foreign companies can provide nuclear and technical expertise.
We partnered with France’s Assystem, which is the world’s second-largest services provider in the nuclear sector. They were already here as a foreign company, and we convinced them to become a local entity to demonstrate their long-term commitment and thrive in the long term. Nuclear power is going to be a big part of the energy mix in the UAE and it is in dire need of local companies pulling their weight.
To deal with nuclear operators, certain standards and regulations must be adhered to in order to prove nuclear energy capabilities. It took us quite a while to get registered and prequalified to deal with ENEC and Nawah Energy Company, Barakah nuclear plant’s operator. We are ready to help the operation and maintenance of these units and hope that many more local companies will follow suit.
How ready is the market to supply the needs of a nuclear power plant?
Unfortunately, there are not many examples of commitment from the local sector. For construction of the plant, we had the support of large public companies such as Ducab, Emirates Steel and National Cement Company who managed to obtain the nuclear stamp to be qualified to supply the industry.
The goal of private companies is to make money and they are not easily convinced to invest in the long term. It has been an uphill battle for ENEC. Unlike other energy industries such as solar, the aviation and nuclear industries are extremely strict with rules and regulations, processes and audits. Companies hesitate to venture into these areas. However, ENEC arranged a few sessions for delegations representing French nuclear-energy-related business groups to discuss opportunities with local companies through presentations and dialogue. This resulted in some successful agreements and partnerships between parties.
The truth is that this is not enough. The four plants are going to be a critical part of the energy mix in the UAE and its development. We cannot afford to have it out of service. We need more investment in the local supply chain to make it work or the operation is at risk.