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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

South Korean president backs resumption of nuclear power in UAE


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates >> South Korea’s President Yoon Hee-yeol said today that his country’s drive to become carbon neutral by 2050 will rely in part on a return to nuclear power, despite attempts by his predecessor to move away from it.

Yoon’s speech before United Arab Emirates leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan underscored Seoul’s commitment to building the Arabian Peninsula’s first atomic power plant. The promise of nuclear power. That could land South Korea lucrative maintenance contracts and future projects in the UAE, with which Seoul has grown closer in recent years.

“South Korea has…announced its 2050 goal of carbon neutrality,” Yoon said in a speech at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. “To achieve this goal, we are working to quickly restore nuclear power systems that provide carbon-free electricity.”

“If our two countries work together to develop clean energy…it will not only strengthen the energy security of our two countries, but also contribute to the stability of the global energy market,” Yoon added.

Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in, tried to keep South Korea away from nuclear power amid safety and corruption scandals and Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. But the renewed global focus on climate change — along with soaring fossil fuel prices in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine — has some reconsidering nuclear power.

The UAE has also pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050 – a goal that remains difficult to assess, and the UAE has still not fully explained how it will achieve it. The $20 billion Barakah nuclear power plant, Seoul’s first attempt to build an atomic reactor abroad, will one day meet nearly a quarter of all the UAE’s electricity needs.

Yoon traveled with Sheikh Mohammed to the Barakah nuclear power plant in the western desert near Abu Dhabi, near Saudi Arabia, later today, before planning a business summit in the capital.

Speaking at the summit after his return, Yoon said he hoped the UAE and South Korea would expand this “new model of cooperation” to include nuclear fuel, small reactors and other joint advances to third countries, using the example of the Barakah nuclear power plant.

“Through the construction of the Barakah nuclear power plant, we were able to develop a relationship that is now truly brotherly,” Yoon said.

Yoon’s embrace of nuclear power also provides some assurance that South Korea will continue to invest in servicing the Barakah plant. France, which is also home to the nuclear power plant and another commercial and military ally of the UAE, is also seeking contracts here.

During Yoon’s four-day trip to the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed pledged to invest some $30 billion in the country. Heavyweight business leaders from Hyundai, Samsung and others will also take part in the state visit.

On Sunday, Yoon also visited South Korean special forces stationed in the United Arab Emirates, a shadowy deployment of Seoul’s deal on the nuclear power plant. The Akh force consisted of about 150 soldiers.

“The UAE is our fraternal country. … This is not a foreign country called the UAE — it’s right here, it’s your country,” hawkish Yoon told the assembled troops. He and his accompanying wife were both in desert camouflage.

“The security of our brotherly countries is our security. The UAE is its most threatening country, its enemy is Iran, and our enemy is North Korea. … We are in a very similar situation with the UAE,” he said.

Yoon’s comments come as the UAE has been trying to hedge its relationship with Iran, its main business partner. The UAE also has about 3,500 U.S. troops stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base, Fujairah and naval outposts elsewhere.

The UAE has paid $3.5 billion for the Cheongung II, or Heavenly Bow, surface-to-air missile system from South Korea to protect itself from aerial threats. Emirati officials have grown concerned about protecting their airspace after being targeted by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen for long-range drone strikes — drones that may have been built by or with Tehran’s help.

South Korea finds itself squeezed by tensions over Iran’s broken nuclear deal with world powers. Billions of dollars in Iranian funds remain in Seoul, frozen by U.S. sanctions. Amid the dispute, Iran seized a South Korean oil tanker for months in 2021.

However, Yoon’s wife, Kim Keon Hee, had a different question about the military. She asked the soldiers if they had seen foxes in the UAE desert.


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