ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Construction work can start on the United Arab Emirates' first nuclear power plant, the government said on Wednesday, opening the way for a consortium of South Korean companies to build the multi-billion dollar project.
In December 2009, the UAE awarded a group led by Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) a contract to build four nuclear reactors to meet surging demand for electricity. But Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp (ENEC) has been waiting for the license before it starts pouring concrete for the first two reactors at the Barakah site.
The March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami, prompted countries across the world to reconsider their atomic ambitions. But the UAE's nuclear regulator said its project would avoid mistakes made in Japan.
"We have tried to learn as many lessons as we could from Fukushima, and we asked ENEC to address the issue in a report, which they did," said William Travers, director general of the Federal Authority of Nuclear Regulation.
The consortium will build and operate four 1,400 megawatt reactors in the UAE; the first is expected to start operating in 2017, and the others by 2020.
The UAE, the world's third biggest oil exporter, wants to save its reserves for export rather than use them to generate electricity, while limiting its imports of natural gas for power plants.
KEPCO in April said it would begin talks with the UAE in 2013 on a new deal to build more reactors.
(Reporting by Maha El Dahan; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Andrew Torchia)