US SMR vendors court ENEC at COP28

8 December 2023

During the 28th Conference of the Parties to the original 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) held in Dubai, the UAE's Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) signed three agreements with US small modular reactor (SMR) and micro-reactor vendors – GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), TerraPower and Westinghouse Electric.

The agreements came after ENEC launched its ADVANCE programme, in the run up to CO28, aimed at leveraging the UAE’s experience in successfully delivering the four-unit Barakah NPP, constructed in Abu Dhabi by a South Korean consortium. All three vendors cited the US-UAE Partnership to Accelerate Transition to Clean Energy (PACE), established in November 2022, as the context for their agreements.

ENEC said the ADVANCE programme is intended to harness the latest advancements in nuclear energy technologies and to strengthen the UAE's position as a leading nation in accelerating the global clean energy transition to Net Zero. The programme will evaluate the latest SMR and microreactor technologies and ENEC will work with national stakeholders to determine deployment pathways and international partners for technology and project collaboration opportunities.

Mohamed Al Hammadi, ENEC Managing Director & CEO said the ADVANCE programme “builds on the great momentum we have made with the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant and the significant expertise we have gained”. With Unit 4 of the Barakah plant due to start up in 2024, “ENEC is now focused on capitalising on the full value of the UAE's investment in the nuclear energy sector, working closely with key technology companies and energy-intensive industry leaders to identify the right technology”. ENEC's technology selection and opportunity for co-investment in technologies “will ensure it remains at the forefront of advanced reactor development and create more attractive, high-value and long-term job opportunities for UAE Nationals”. The ADVANCE programme “boosts the UAE's RD and innovation activities, enhancing national intellect that can cross-pollinate to related sectors”.

The White House fact sheet on PACE said it “is set to catalyse $100bn in financing, investment, and other support and to deploy globally 100 gigawatts of clean energy by 2035 to advance the energy transition and maximise climate benefits”. In addition to investing in both countries’ clean energy futures, the aim is to promote climate action “by vigorously pursuing and encouraging investment in clean energy in emerging economies”. Among other things, PACE “intends to tap available resources and public and private sector expertise in the US and the UAE and expedite investment in and deployment of new technologies to drive down cost”. PACE also “supports the full-scale implementation of the civil nuclear cooperation between the US and the UAE.

Within the framework of these two programmes, ENEC during COP28 signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with GEH to explore potential of its BWRX-300 SMR design; TerraPower, which is developing the Natrium sodium fast reactor with molten salt energy storage; and Westinghouse with its eVinci microreactor design.

The MOU with GEH will explore potential BWRX-300 deployment in the UAE for electricity generation and non-traditional applications, including a potential framework for ENEC to lead a broader regional deployment of the technology in the Middle East and Africa. They will also consider opportunities to collaborate on engineering, workforce, supply chain development supporting projects within the UAE.

Al Hammadi said, as part of the ADVANCE programme, “ENEC and GE Hitachi will work together to identify ways to advance the deployment of SMRs through this new MOU. GEH noted that the collaboration helps to advance the goals of the PACE initiative. Scott Strazik, CEO, GE Vernova, said he appreciated the leadership of the PACE initiative and the collaboration toward a swift and smooth energy transition. He noted that the UAE is a key market for GE Vernova. Dr Dalya Al Muthanna, President UAE at GE International Markets said: “ We believe this is a fantastic opportunity to develop the future talent of Emiratis in the SMR space.” The MOU signing was attended by David Livingston, Senior Advisor Managing Director for Energy for the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

The MOU with TerraPower was signed by ENEC Vice President for Nuclear Research & Development Ahmed Al Mazroui and TerraPower President & CEO Chris Levesque in a ceremony attended by Al Hammadi and TerraPower Chairman Bill Gates as well as US Special Presidential Envoy David Livingston and other US Government officials.

ENEC and TerraPower agreed to collaborate across various areas, including technical design and commercial viability of the TerraPower Natrium technology development in the UAE and the US. They will also assess ways to optimise the use of the Natrium technology for grid stability through energy storage capabilities. The MOU will enable both parties to analyse opportunities to collaborate on engineering, workforce and supply chain development, supporting projects within the UAE with potential secondments of Emirati engineers to TerraPower's headquarters in the US.

Al Hammadi commented, "Our message at COP28 is that nuclear energy is vital to achieving Net Zero, in line with the announcement in the past days by world leaders who have called for a tripling of global nuclear energy capacity by 2050…. Our new agreement with TerraPower will facilitate cooperation in taking nuclear energy technology to the next level by accelerating its deployment and its use for innovating new solutions, including the production of clean molecules and hydrogen."

Levesque said TerraPower and ENEC are leading the way in deploying nuclear plants, “and this agreement allows us to share our expertise and design experience and explore the opportunity for deployment of Natrium reactors around the world, including additional locations in the United States”.

The MOU also opens the door for ENEC to lead a broader regional deployment of TerraPower's Natrium technology across the Middle East, Africa and the Indian subcontinental regions. “The aim will be to jointly accelerate the commercialisation and global deployment of Natrium technology under licensing agreements with TerraPower and within the framework of the existing US-UAE PACE programme, TerraPower noted.

The MOU with Westinghouse was signed by Al Hammadi, and Westinghouse President & CEO Patrick Fragman, to explore potential opportunities for technical and commercial deployment of the eVinci microreactor both in the UAE and overseas. Al Hammadi said it would enable ENEC “to assess the positive potential impact of eVinci microreactors, to accelerate global clean energy transitions”. Fragman noted that the eVinci technology “can be truly transformative to the UAE”. Westinghouse acknowledged that the agreement was enabled by PACE. ENEC said the agreement “will involve the potential use of ENEC project delivery know-how and experience as well as inclusion of nuclear-graded UAE companies as suppliers within the nation”.

Image: Mohamed Al Hammadi, ENEC Managing Director & CEO (courtesy of ENEC)

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