Abu Dhabi's nuclear energy company has been granted permission to prepare the groundwork for the Arab world's first nuclear reactors as it races to meet a 2017 deadline.
The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), the independent nuclear watchdog, granted Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) permission on Tuesday to carry out civil works at the site for the first two of four planned reactors.
The total cost of all the reactors is put at US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn). The first reactor is scheduled to come online in 2017 and would make the UAE the first Arab nation to produce nuclear energy.
"It allows us to maintain our momentum," said Fahad Al Qahtani, a spokesman at Enec.
"It allows us to do some of the necessary work we need to do in order to stick to our schedule, and the next milestone we are hoping for is the approval of the construction licence application."
The groundwork includes levelling the ground and laying down the piping and electrical conduits needed before the first concrete is poured at the proposed site at Braka in Al Gharbia 300km west of the capital.
Enec is awaiting the regulator's decision on a 9,000-page construction licence for the first two reactors, which it submitted in December 2010 and hopes to get a green light on by July.
A team of 60 people in the US, France and the UAE are reviewing the application. In 2009 Abu Dhabi awarded the $20bn contract for the reactors to a South Korean consortium.
This week, Hong Suk-woo, the Korean minister of knowledge economy, said the nation would like to build four more reactors in Abu Dhabi and that there was enough room at the Braka site to build them.
Enec said no decision had been made on additional reactors.
"We are now focusing on the four nuclear power plants," said Mr Qahtani.
"We are focusing on our projects, and in the future we will assess the electricity supply and demand if we want to develop more nuclear power plants."