President to fly to Emirates after national address

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President to fly to Emirates after national address

President Park Geun-hye is scheduled to head to the United Arab Emirates today for a two-day trip to attend a ceremony to celebrate the installation of the first reactor constructed by a Korean consortium overseas.

Despite the ill timing of the visit as the government struggles to tackle the aftermath of the Sewol ferry accident - the worst maritime disaster in Korean history - the president is determined to attend the ceremony at the Barakah nuclear power plant to uphold “national interests.”

Park was initially scheduled to take a weeklong trip from May 17 to three Middle Eastern countries - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “But all other schedules were canceled following the domestic Sewol accident” as the government responded to the disaster, presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said yesterday.

“There are three Korea-made reactors domestically, but this reactor in the UAE will be the first [reactor installed] abroad,” said Cho Won-dong, senior presidential economic secretary. “This ceremony is the first debut on the international stage of a reactor made with Korean technology. So it is that meaningful.”

The state-owned Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) won the bid from Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation in 2009 for an estimated $40 billion deal to build four units for the APR-1400 nuclear power reactor in Barakah, a region 270 kilometers (168 miles) west of Abu Dhabi. The APR-1400, or advanced power reactor, is a 1,400 megawatt advanced light-water reactor that was launched in Korea in 2002. Kepco won the bid in a fierce competition against a French consortium including Areva and a U.S.-Japanese consortium of General Electric and Hitachi, and started construction in mid-2012.

Cho pointed out that the UAE Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, comprised of top energy experts, “was the first to acknowledge our reactor.”

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who met with President Park in February in Seoul and agreed to enhance cooperation between UAE and Korea, is also scheduled to attend the opening ceremony.

Cho said that if Park misses this ceremony, another opportunity for a president to attend an event will not come up until 2017, when the Unit 1 reactor is completed.

“The president may visit the UAE at a later date, but if we lose the momentum, we determined that we may lose out on our important national interest,” he added.

The UAE has “hoped for President Park’s attendance” at the reactor installation ceremony, spokesman Min added.

Islamic nations, including the UAE, celebrate Ramadan starting in late June. Park will be on a tight schedule, with less than 24 hours in the UAE after flight time is detracted.

The nuclear power plant construction project is operating smoothly, according to Kepco, with Unit 1 scheduled for completion in May 2017.

As of March, Unit 1 and 2 were more than 42 percent complete, and Unit 3 and 4 were more than 14 percent complete. All four reactors are expected to be operational by 2020.

Before she departs to the UAE, Park is scheduled to give a televised address to the nation at 9 a.m. today regarding the Sewol ferry tragedy, according to the presidential spokesman.

She is expected to issue another public apology and announce plans for the revision of the government’s emergency management system as well as its plans for tackling corruption among officials.

Park attended a Catholic Mass yesterday at Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul and paid her respects to the Sewol victims and offered her condolences to bereaved families.

BY SARAH KIM, HUH JIN [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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