The successful cooperation of South Korea and the UAE in building Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in Abu Dhabi has opened a new venue for further collaboration to explore opportunities in global nuclear power markets, according to a top Korean diplomat.
"We hope that we could move into the next stage. South Korea and the UAE could collaborate to enter the nuclear power markets of third countries," Kwon Yongwoo, the South Korean Ambassador to the UAE, told Emirates News Agency, WAM, in an exclusive interview.
The UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, FANR, announced on 3rd March that it had overseen loading of the nuclear fuel assemblies into Unit 1 of Barakah Nuclear Power Plant being built by a South Korean consortium. With this development, the UAE has officially become the first nuclear energy operating country in the Arab World.
The envoy clarified that both parties have not conducted any official talks about the joint collaboration on overseas projects as of now.
"But given our advanced technological capabilities in nuclear power generation, Korea is a new power to be reckoned with in this sector. Therefore, we will have more opportunities in future," Kwon explained.
He expressed hope that "we can utilise such opportunities together with the UAE."
The ambassador expects such openings for joint collaboration to come up in the Middle East region because of the successful experience of Korea and the UAE in Barakah Nuclear Power Plant.
"Barakah is important for Korea because it is our first ever overseas nuclear power project. It has been Korea’s first experience of building a nuclear power plant in a new environment [desert]," he pointed out.
"This has proved Korea’s capability as a provider of advanced and reliable nuclear technology. That’s why we think we will have good opportunities in future. We are capable to undertake such hard projects in this region," he explained.
As both nations celebrate 40th anniversary of bilateral relations this year, the envoy believes that the cooperation in nuclear power has been the most important development over the years.
"Korea and the UAE have been deepening cooperation in all important areas such as defence, energy, nuclear energy, agriculture, environment, education, culture, and many others. This kind of partnership led to the establishment of the Special Strategic Partnership during the visit of South Korean President Moon Jae in to the UAE in 2018," Kwon noted.
"However, the cooperation in Barakah plant has given a boost to all areas in the bilateral relations," he affirmed.
On the economic relations, the envoy said bilateral trade stood at US$13 billion in 2019, which was not a satisfactory level. "We have great potential to do more," he pointed out.
The UAE is fourth largest supplier of oil to South Korea, with imports of oil and related products from the UAE occupying two thirds of the bilateral trade volumes. Korea mainly exports automobiles, auto parts, steel pipes, and storage batteries and so on to the UAE, Kwon explained.
Around 170 Korean companies are operating in the UAE, mainly in energy, construction, banking, travel and tourism sectors.
Korea and the UAE are keen to develop cooperation in fourth industrial revolution, the ambassador said.
The UAE’s special economic zones [free zones] and Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, MBZUAI, the first Artificial Intelligence University in the world, also open new areas of cooperation, he noted.
On the people to people relations, the envoy said around 13,000 Korean nationals are living in the UAE with their number almost equally distributed between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Most of them are working in aviation, public health and nuclear power sectors, Kwon revealed.
About the new coronavirus, COVID 19, pandemic, the ambassador said although South Korea was one of the worst hit countries, the government controlled the situation with comprehensive efforts to combat the virus.
The UAE as a global air transport hub has acted very responsibly to check COVID 19, he noted.
The envoy expressed hope that "Korea, the UAE and other friends together can combat the virus very soon." ■