x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Interest in UAE’s nuclear industry heats up

The number of Emirati students studying nuclear technology at an Abu Dhabi university has almost quadrupled since last year.

Students Khalifa Al Zaabi, Ali Al Kaabi, and Naser Al Shehhi look at a model nuclear reactor that is on display at Abu Dhabi Polytechnic. Ravindranath K / The National
Students Khalifa Al Zaabi, Ali Al Kaabi, and Naser Al Shehhi look at a model nuclear reactor that is on display at Abu Dhabi Polytechnic. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // The number of Emiratis studying nuclear technology at Abu Dhabi Polytechnic has risen almost fourfold since last year.

Sixty-five students will graduate next month, up from 17 last year.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) will hire 63 of them over the next three years.

Naser Al Shehhi, a 21-year-old student from Ras Al Khaimah, said his parents urged him to pursue a career in nuclear technology.

“The programme is great because you learn practicality, not just theory,” he said. “Many people believe that the day will come when we will run out of oil and, because of the oil crisis right now, we are suffering a bit on the budget side, so diverting the energy production from oil is key.”

Mr Al Shehhi and his classmates spent nine months interning at a nuclear power plant in South Korea.

“The training we got there was excellent,” he said. “I plan on working in radiation protection with Enec when I graduate.”

Khalifa Al Zaabi, a 21-year-old student from Abu Dhabi, said he planned to continue his studies in radiation protection in Canada or the United States after working with Enec.

“Everyone is talking about nuclear and how interesting it is,” he said.

“Nuclear technology is important because oil won’t last forever. I think it’ll be a good thing for the country to find a new way to produce energy.”

The students’ work with Enec will involve monitoring radiation levels and using Geiger counters to check plant workers’ exposure to radiation.

“We are opening a nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi, so it’s nice to be one of the leaders, as we have never experienced nuclear engineering here,” said 21-year-old Ali Al Kaabi from Fujairah.

“The nuclear power plant will produce about 25 per cent of the UAE’s energy needs … and it will not increase pollution. So it’s more environmentally-friendly, cleaner and safer,” he said.

Although Abu Dhabi Polytechnic aimed to enrol 120 students in its nuclear technology course, Dr Anthony Hechanova, its head of advanced energy engineering technology, said he was satisfied with the number of students.

“We had a rather ambitious plan but I’m happy with the 65 [students], as the original target wasn’t realistic because we would have had to admit a lot more students than we did,” he said.

Dr Hechanova said “there was not enough awareness” of the subject, resulting in the low enrolment number.

Ninety per cent of the students from Abu Dhabi Polytechnic’s first nuclear engineering class came from its high schools including the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT).

“We did a lot of recruitment since and our current intake of students come from other institutions now,” Dr Hechanova said. “Only a third comes from IAT, which is a big switch because it means we are beginning to be recognised and to build a reputation.

Dr Hechanova said about half of the students in the course came from Abu Dhabi.

“We will target and have a preference for students from Abu Dhabi because the nuclear power plant is located there, so people will be closer to home for their career,” he said.

Dr Hechanova said he expected 60 students to graduate every year from the nuclear engineering course. “Now that we have a pretty strong reputation we’re getting very close to our target,” he said. “We have a full faculty and we’re looking for a few more lab engineers and teaching assistants. The interest of nuclear power is still strong among Emiratis.”