x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Challenge to train UAE nationals for nuclear jobs begins

As the nation gears up to launch its nuclear programme, hundreds of qualified Emirati technicians are much sought after.

As the nation gears up to launch its nuclear programme, qualified Emirati technicians are much sought after. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp (Enec), the agency charged with developing and operating the country's nuclear plants, hopes to train a generation of nationals to work in the nuclear sector. According to Enec's estimates, more than 2,100 will need to be trained by 2020. In March, Ali al Zaabi, the head of the programme management office at Enec, said 500 employees will be needed to operate the first plant, which is planned to come online in 2017. Officials hope 60 per cent of workers will be UAE nationals.

The Government's efforts to prepare a generation of Emiratis for work in the nuclear sector have been two-pronged: at home a series of new institutions and programmes will work to train technicians and engineers, while a number of study-abroad programmes have sent students overseas for first-hand exposure to nuclear technology. In November, Enec, the Khalifa University for Science, Technology and Research (Kustar) and the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation launched a scholarship programme to train the first wave of Emirati nationals to work in the field.

Thirty-eight UAE nationals were awarded scholarships to study engineering in the Emirates and overseas as part of the plan last year. Five students from the first class were given scholarships for master's degrees in nuclear engineering in France. A further 33 are doing bachelor's degrees in nuclear, electrical or mechanical engineering in the UAE, the UK and the US. The deadline for 2010 scholarships was at the end of June.

In March, the Government unveiled plans for the Gulf Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Institute, a partnership among Kustar, Enec and several US institutions, including the department of energy and Texas A&M University, which will focus on education in nuclear policy, safety and nonproliferation. The Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), a network of science and engineering high schools, also will play a key role in developing human capital.

In 2011, the IAT will launch a three-year diploma programme to train young Emiratis to work as nuclear technicians at the power plants. Over the summer, Enec sent 50 high school students from the IAT to train at the South Korean firm that leads the consortium contracted to build nuclear power plants in the UAE. One of the goals is to get students interested in careers in nuclear energy early. Abdullatif al Shamsi, the director general of the IAT, acknowledges that producing hundreds of engineers and technicians remains a difficult task for the nation's troubled school system.

"That is one of the challenges that we face here in the UAE," he said. "How do we create the manpower level to operate and maintain the nuclear power plants? "In a society like the UAE it is a challenge because that level of technicians is not available," Dr al Shamsi said. "To do that we have to start early on, we need to start in high school, to get them more excited." @Email:klewis@thenational.ae