Westinghouse plans to use its Abu Dhabi office as a base to expand its nuclear business in the region, according to a top executive.
The American company is one of the largest subcontractors for the UAE’s nuclear power project at Barakah in Al Gharbia, about 50 kilometres west of Ruwais.
That Westinghouse is setting up a base in Abu Dhabi underlines the fact that demand for electricity in the Arabian Gulf – and the Middle East in general – is among the fastest-growing in the world.
There are dozens of potential nuclear power projects on the drawing board, with advanced planning for 16 new reactors in Saudi Arabia alone, where electricity demand is growing at 8 per cent a year.
“We knew we wanted a strong position here in the Middle East, and we’ve been looking at the establishment of this office for some time,” said Jeff Benjamin, Westinghouse’s head of new plants and major projects.
“I see it as the Middle East base as other countries in the region consider their plans. It makes perfect sense to use our operations here as a focal point for examining those projects and determining which of those we want to be a part of.”
The Barakah project – the first of its kind in the region and one of the largest in the world – is being closely watched by the industry and nuclear security authorities worldwide as setting a benchmark for civilian nuclear projects in the Middle East.
“This is one of the iconic new-build construction projects in the world today,” said Mr Benjamin.
It is proving to be the “gold standard” of nuclear projects worldwide and is one of the few to stay on schedule, according to him.
The Barakah project, which was commissioned at the end of 2008 by Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp, is led by Korean Electric Power Corp.
The first of four of its APR1400 reactors is due to start operating at the end of 2017, with the annual addition of the rest through 2020, when the project is expected to supply about 25 per cent of the UAE’s electricity needs.
Westinghouse is building the coolant pumps for the plant, as well as its digital control centre, “the brains of the plant”.
The company is also conducting a large-scale training programme for Emirati engineers and other staff, including those who will be the most senior operators of the reactors.
At the opening of Westinghouse’s office in Abu Dhabi, Ethan Goldrich, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy, commended the company’s commitment to developing a safe civilian nuclear industry in the UAE and the region.
Toshiba of Japan has since 2006 been the majority owner of the Pennsylvania-based Westinghouse, which has a long industrial history in the United States. Kazakhstan’s nuclear company holds a passive minority stake.
However, Westinghouse works in close cooperation with the US government to ensure that national security goals are met.
“We’re in constant dialogue with the US government over all of the potential projects globally, and obviously take their input as part of our consideration and continually assess where they are in terms of bilateral agreements,” said Mr Benjamin.
Westinghouse’s extensive training programme enables it to meet the goals that Enec set, he said. It also ensures that the safety and security benchmarks set by the International Atomic Energy Agency are met.