x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

IAEA experts praise swift work on nuclear power safety programme

Regulators have been urged to finalise plans for radioactive waste.

ABU DHABI // Regulators of the UAE’s nascent nuclear power programme should clarify their plans for dealing with an emergency and for managing radioactive waste, a team of international experts has recommended.

The 17-strong team assembled by the International Atomic Energy Agency carried out a 10-day evaluation of safety regulations this month, at the request of the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation.

Its draft report yielded “a lot of insights that we expect to use”, William Travers, the authority’s director general, said yesterday. A final report is expected in March.

Abu Dhabi plans to build a Dh75 billion nuclear power plant at Braka, about 300km west of the capital, and begin producing electricity from it in six years, making the UAE the first Arab nation with atomic energy.

Carl-Magnus Larsson, chief executive of Australia’s nuclear safety agency and leader of the IAEA inspection team, praised the swift development of a regulatory framework. “This has been well thought out and it has happened in a logical sequence,” he said. Mr Larsson added that there were “obviously areas where the development hasn’t been able to keep pace”.

Mr Travers said: “We recognise that we have more to do.”

Mr Larsson said the team was pleased with what it saw, and he discussed two specific recommendations. First, FANR should continue to develop a strategy for radioactive waste management.

The authority primarily oversees radioactive materials used for industrial and medical applications, which are usually shipped to their country of origin when their useful life ends. “That’s a strategy,” Mr Travers said. But as plans progress and the categories and amount of radioactive waste increases, FANR must create a comprehensive plan, he said.

Officials are trying to do that now. “The Government is exploring the options other nations have in establishing safe handling and transport,” Mr Travers said.

The 2017 target date gives FANR time for “careful consideration”, he said.

Mr Larsson said: “We would like to see that the work on the waste-management policy is brought to conclusion.”

The team also urged FANR to clarify the responsibilities of various organisations in the event of a nuclear emergency.

Salem Al Qubaisi, director of FANR’s nuclear security department, said the Critical National Infrastructure Authority would be in charge, but Mr Larsson said it was important to have a detailed plan for agency collaboration.

FANR established a Radiation Protection Committee this year with representatives from agencies including the Armed Forces, Ministry of Environment and Water, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation and Federal Customs Authority. The committee held its first meeting on October 6.

Among other things, members will discuss how to divide the responsibility of responding to nuclear emergencies.

“All of that has started off very well … but it’s still in a stage of development,” Mr Larsson said. “We would like to see an action plan from the radiation protection committee.

“We believe that is going to happen.”

As for a timeline, “that is up to the committee”, he said.

vnereim@thenational.ae