Mideast nuclear projects report a mix of progress and perils

  • UAE applies for operating licenses for first two of four units
  • Jordan signs agreement with Rosatom for two VVERs
  • Turkey’s first of three major nuclear projects delayed
  • Turkey to buy four reactors from Japan

With a nuclear regulatory structure and agency modeled after the US NRC, the United Arab Emirates announced that its Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) has submitted an application for an operating license for the first two units at the Barakah nuclear power station. The 1400 MW reactors are being built by a consortium of South Korean firms lead by the Korean Electric Power Co.. The application represents the first operating license applications for the design.

The 15,000 pages of the application include a safety assessment that incorporates lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident. The UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) has started the review process with a target date of issuing a license for the first unit in 2016 and the license for the second unit a year later. The license applications for the APR-1400 units propose an operating life of 60 years. Unit 1 is reported to be 69% complete with start-up in 2017.

Jordan signs $10 billion deal with Rosatom

While Jordan imports 98% of its energy needs in the form of crude oil, and record low prices for crude are a big help, that hasn’t stopped the nation from signing a $10 billion deal with Rosatom for two 1000 MW VVER nuclear reactors.  Khaled Toukan, who chairs the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, told wire services the first unit would come on line in 2022. He expects that when complete the power station will supply 40% of Jordan’s electricity.

The nuclear plants will reduce demand for crude oil. CO2 emissions are estimated to be reduced by about 1400 tons for each day the reactors run at full power. The reactors are expected to have a service life of at least 40 years and as much as 60 years.

Sergey Kirienko, Rosatom’s CEO, said his firm expects to supply the nuclear fuel for the reactors and will take it back when it is burned up. The first contract for fuel will coincide with the first ten years of reactor operations. Jordan is seeking investors for its 51% equity stake in the project. Rosatom will take a 49% equity stake.

The reactors are reported to be planned to be located near Amman, Jordan, at Mafraq City, about 80 Km (50 miles) to the north which is near the Syrian border.

Cooling water would come from a wastewater treatment plant in a design similar to the one used by the Palo Verde reactor in Arizona. A proposed site on the Red Sea turned out to require costly seismic construction elements according to an engineering analysis by the Belgium firm Tractabel, a subsidiary of GDF Suez.

In addition to generating electricity for consumer and industrial users, it will also divert some of its power via transmission lines to run salt water desalinization facilities planned to be located along the Red Sea coast near the port of Aqaba.

Previously, Jordan offered the concept of a nuclear deal to Areva with the proviso that there would be a trade for Jordan’s uranium deposits for the reactors. However, Areva and Rio Tinto concluded after prospecting the deposits that it would not be economically feasible to mine them.

Turkey’s Akkuyu nuclear project delayed

A senior official in Turkey’s energy agency told English language news media in Istanbul March 25 that the country’s first nuclear power station, slated to be built at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast, will not be completed by 2020 as planned. Construction has not yet started on the four 1200 VVER reactors to be supplied by Rosatom. The completion date has been pushed back by two years to 2022.

The delays are reported to be associated with environmental permits and seismic studies for the site. The permits were finally released in December 2014 after nearly a year long delay.

Additionally, financial issues have cropped up with the project. Rosatom is reported to be trying to sell half of its nearly 100% stake in the project, but so far has not found any investors.

Russia’s move to seek investors for the project does not come as a surprise. Energy analysts have commented that Rosatom may be over-extended given that its capital requirements are funded by oil and gas export revenues. Russia’s economy has taken a huge hit with the dramatic drop in the price of oil, and natural gas.

A spokesman for Rosatom told wire services that RFoastom’s funding for the Turkey projects, and similar reactors elsewhere, including a recent deal in Finland, comes from the national retirement account and not oil revenues. In other words, Russia’s version of a state pension program provides the deep pockets for Rosatom’s export capital needs.

The original deal called for Rosatom to build and operate the four Akkuyu reactors for 15 years selling up to 100% of the equity to outside investors at that milestone. In return, the Turkish energy ministry negotiated a rate of $0.15/KwHr for electricity from the plant. Electricity from natural gas costs in the range of $0.08/KwHr. The planned price of electricity from the reactors has since come down to around $0.12/KwHr.

Once completed the power station is expected to supply 5% of the nation’s electricity with a corresponding decrease in demand for Russian natural gas to be used to generate electricity.  Turkey currently spends $50 billion a year on natural gas imports. A 5% reduction would be worth $2.5 billion/year.

Over a 40 year period the savings would be substantial even taking into account the discounted value of money for that period. The Akkuyu project is expected to cost $25 billion.

Turkey to buy four reactors from Japan

The Turkish government has moved closer to breaking ground to build four 1100 MW Atmea nuclear reactors developed as a joint venture by Japan’s Mitsubishi and France’s Areva.  GDF Suez, a French engineering and construction firm will take 51% of the equity available for in the project, but 70% of the project’s financing is expected to be debt.

The 20-year financing agreement calls for power to be sold at about $0.11/KwHr. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Nippon Export & Investment Insurance will assist in lining up lenders.

The power station is expected to be built at Sinop on the southern coast of the Black Sea. Approval of the project by Turkey’s parliament is expected in April. If the measure is not approved next month, the assembly won’t meet again until October. A vote is needed to authorize the placement of orders for the reactors which will cost an estimated $16.4 billion.

The first unit is scheduled to be completed in 2023 with the next three units to come in one a year thereafter.

Plans for a third nuclear power station, to be located on the western coastline of the Black Sea, near Turkey’s border with Bulgaria, have not been firmed up though the government’s energy ministry is said to be talking to Chinese nuclear firms about one of their GEN III designs.

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