+ A

Gov’t denies reports about Abu Dhabi project

Dec 27,2017
The government refuted two media reports about serious delays in a nuclear power project in the United Arab Emirates.

That project has been in the news since the Blue House dispatched presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok to UAE and Lebanon from Dec. 9 to 12 for reasons that remain murky.

One report said that the government might have to pay as much as 2 trillion won ($1.8 billion) to compensate for construction delays. Another report by the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo on Monday said that some small to medium sized Korean companies involved in the project in Barakah, 270 kilometers west of the capital Abu Dhabi, had gone under because they were not paid for their work.

“Rumors have been raised that the Korean government is liable for 2 trillion won compensation because our (technical) glitch led to delayed construction at the UAE nuclear plant project,” said the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy in a statement issued hours after the first report came out.

“Such a rumor is not true,” stressed the government. The ministry added that no small or medium sized firm has withdrawn from the project because it was not paid for work.

The construction of the first of four nuclear plants was due to be completed this May, which has been delayed for a year. The first plant is now 96 percent complete. The other three reactors are scheduled to be finished by 2020. Denying that construction was delayed because of a problem caused by the Korea Electric and Power Corporation (Kepco), the government said the UAE announced on May 5 that it had rescheduled the opening of the nuclear reactor to “satisfy nuclear reactor safety standards” and “better train reactor employees.”

Kepco won a 20-trillion won bid from the oil-rich Middle Eastern country in 2009 to build four 1,400-megawatt nuclear reactors in Barahka.

Kepco is building the four reactors simultaneously, making it the world’s largest single nuclear power project. Kepco won another bid in 2016 to operate the Barakah plant. The deal is expected to bring $49.4 billion in revenue to Kepco over the 60-year contract period. The UAE wants to raise the amount of its energy generated by nuclear power to 25 percent by 2021 in preparation for a post-petroleum future.

The government’s denials were the latest wrinkle in the mystery over why Presidential Chief of Staff Im hurried to the UAE and Lebanon in December. The Blue House first said Im was sent to cheer up the Korean troops stationed in the two Middle Eastern countries. Then it changed its explanation, saying he went on an urgent diplomatic mission to steady bilateral relations with the UAE, but refused to say why.


BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]