x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Nuclear watchdog seeks Japan lessons

The Federal Authority for Nuclear Energy (FANR), the UAE nuclear watchdog, has asked the company charged with building the country's first reactors to add to its plan lessons from the accident in Japan.

The UAE's nuclear regulator has asked the company charged with building the country's first nuclear power plants to explain how it will learn from the crisis in Japan.

The request this week from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) is the first public action taken by UAE authorities since an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 crippled Japan's Fukushima plant.

"We are basically asking them what aspects they could incorporate into their planning," said Ayhan Evrensel, a spokesman for FANR. "This is about the plant, the siting - how well is the site chosen, have all the external possible hazards been taken into account, the design, how well is the design chosen, and later, how do they plan to operate?"

Engineers in Japan are still trying to contain radiation from three reactors that overheated when the electricity supply to the cooling system was interrupted by a magnitude-9 earthquake and resulting tsunami last month.

Countries operating nuclear power plants, including Germany and the US, have launched safety reviews or imposed moratoriums on plans for nuclear energy in response to public fears sparked by the Fukushima disaster, but the UAE has until now remained silent on whether its US$20 billion (Dh73.45bn) plan to build four reactors would be affected.

"We have been reviewing Enec's application for the past four months and something came in between - a natural disaster in a country far away from us - and we want everyone to take lessons. If there are any lessons to take, let's do it now, as quickly as possible," Mr Evrensel said.

The first two of the UAE's reactors are scheduled to come online by 2017, should FANR approve a 9,000-page licence application that Enec submitted in December. William Travers, the director general of FANR, had said the agency aimed to complete the review by the middle of next year.

Enec, which will have to submit its lessons from Fukushima by the end of the month, said that in light of the nuclear crisis in Japan it had already begun reviewing matters including the proposed plant's off-site power supply and the pools of water in which spent fuel rods would be stored.

"Enec is committed to delivering a civil nuclear energy programme in the UAE that is based on the best international practices in safety, quality and operations," said Fahad al Qahtani, an Enec spokesman, in the company's first public statement since Japan's crisis began. "We believe there will be valuable lessons learnt from the events in Japan, and a thorough review of these events is an important and an essential process to undertake, and we've already taken essential steps to initiate this process. And we will provide FANR with the detailed plan shortly."

The request from FANR comes days before the UAE is scheduled to make its first international presentation on the safety of its proposed nuclear plants to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog based in Vienna.

A team from Enec, FANR and other government institutions will take questions from representatives of other nations that have signed the IAEA's Convention on Nuclear Safety, an agreement that obligates countries to adhere to certain safety and emergency preparedness standards but lacks penalties for those that violate them.