ABU DHABI // Lessons learnt from the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan will improve global nuclear safety practices, one of the UAE's leading nuclear engineers has said.
"As the event is still developing, it will take some time before we understand this incident in enough detail to draw real conclusions," Hamad al Kaabi, the UAE's permanent representative to the IAEA and a Purdue University-trained nuclear engineer, said in a statement published by WAM, the state news agency.
"There is no doubt, however, that there will be lessons learnt from Japan that will enable the industry to improve the rigorous safety practices that are already in place around the world."
Four nuclear energy plants are planned for construction in Abu Dhabi, with the first one to be connected to the Abu Dhabi grid by 2017. Up to a quarter of the UAE's electricity could come from nuclear energy by 2020.
The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), the organisation responsible for the design, construction and operation of the plants, selected the APR1400 - a third-generation reactor design developed by Korea Electric Power Corporation, a South Korean company.
Mr al Kaabi, who has been been involved in the UAE's nuclear energy programme from the beginning and is a board member of the UAE's nuclear regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), said the reactor "is designed to withstand severe accidents and events, even those with a very low probability of occurrence".
ENEC's preferred site for the plants is Braka, in the Western Region, about 53km west-southwest of Ruwais. Final approval of the site rests with FANR.
Before construction begins, FANR must approve the design of the plants and certify that they can withstand geological events including earthquakes and tsunamis. Mr al Kaabi said the probability of these events was low.
"The Arabian Gulf is not an area with a history of tsunami activity," he said. "Still, the Braka power plants are designed to withstand a significant tsunami event, it is part of design requirements."
He added: "The containment building in new reactor designs, such as the one planned for the UAE, is incredibly strong, with walls of steel-reinforced concrete almost two metres in thickness. It is capable of withstanding the maximum predicted sequence of severe accidents in the UAE, including earthquake, fires, and even missile attacks or the direct impact of a plane crash."