x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UAE nuclear programme is 'gold standard'

International expert says the country has been forward-thinking in its pursuit of nuclear power.

ABU DHABI // The capital is the "gold standard" on which other countries should model their quest for nuclear power, an international nuclear energy industry expert said this week.

The oil-rich UAE has been forward-looking in its pursuit of nuclear power and has employed a "logical, well thought-out approach" to building the country's first four nuclear reactors, said Dr Dale Klein, the former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the associate director of The Energy Institute at the University of Texas.

Central to any new nuclear power programme is transparency, a technique that Dr Klein said the UAE has used to build both international and local trust.

"The United Arab Emirates has been very good at explaining to the public what nuclear means, why it's important for the country, and what steps it's taking," Dr Klein said. "It's very important that people understand how nuclear power plants work and why they're being built."

Dr Klein's comments came on Tuesday as part of a lecture delivered at the majlis of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Infrastructure and site preparation work has begun at the future site of four nuclear reactors in Baraka, more than 50 kilometres from Ruwais in Al Gharbia. The first plant is expected to start operating in 2017, with three more plants scheduled to be completed and operational by 2020.

Four more nuclear plants may also be in the works for the UAE.

In the wake of the Fukushima disaster last year, the UAE has made changes to its nuclear plans, Dr Klein said.

While the region is not likely to be struck by an major earthquake or tsunami, UAE authorities did have to account for unique Gulf conditions, including extreme heat and potential dust storms.

"You need to make sure your equipment can operate in very hot and very dusty conditions," he said.

Watertight seals and watertight battery compartments, which were missing at Fukushima, have been added to the plans for the Baraka plants, and Dr Klein recommended the UAE invest in additional electrical generators.

The UAE's nuclear progress is in stark contrast to neighbouring Iran, the expert said.

"Iran is not as transparent as the world would like," Dr Klein said. "It's not clear what their level of safety is. It's not clear what their level of training is.

"Radiation does not stop at a border. Their nuclear programme could be important for surrounding countries."

More than 60 nuclear reactors are under construction internationally, joining the more than 435 already in operation.

jthomas@thenational.ae