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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

UAE's first nuclear power plant delayed until late 2019 or 2020

Operator says it must meet "highest standards" of safety and security

Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant will begin operation in late 2019 or 2020, Nawah Energy Company has said. Arun Girija / AFP
Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant will begin operation in late 2019 or 2020, Nawah Energy Company has said. Arun Girija / AFP

The UAE’s first nuclear power plant will not begin generating electricity until the end of next year, or possibly even 2020, its operator has said.

The delay follows a “comprehensive operational readiness review” by the Nawah Energy Company, according to state news agency Wam.

Construction of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Al Dhafra has reached an advanced stage, with the completion of the first reactor announced earlier this year.

The process of activating what will be the first of four reactors seems likely now to take longer than originally intended, with Wam reporting that this “reflects a conservative approach intended to ensure that the highest standards of nuclear quality, safety and security”.

To begin nuclear operations, Nawah must receive an operating licence from FANR, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, which regulates the industry according to international standards.

It is Nawah’s staff who will operate the plant, with about 1,800 recruited and undergoing specialist training.

A joint venture between Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation and Kepco, the Korean Electric Power Company, Nawah cannot begin operations until it has received a licence from FANR.

Last May, Enec said it had largely completed the first reactor with its Korean partner and hoped operations would begin this year.

Construction of the $25 billion plant began in 2011, with electricity generation originally set for 2017.

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Speaking in April, Christer Viktorsson, director general of FANR, said: “I have to make sure that everything is tip-top before I give the operating licence,”.

“They have 60 or 80 years to operate, which is the typical lifetime of a nuclear reactor. So why rush for two months or three months or a year?”

The revised dates for operations were the result of a review based on “global nuclear standards”, according to Mark Reddemann, chief executive of Nawah.

"Nawah’s commitment to meet the highest standards of quality and safety is the main driver for all our work," he said.

Barakah is the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world, and has been hailed as a model for peaceful nuclear power by the international community, with guarantees that the programme could not be used for nuclear weapons.

In his speech last week warning Iran that it faced tougher sanctions over its nuclear activities, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unfavourably compared Tehran’s approach to that adopted by the UAE, asking: “Why would we allow Iran more capability than we have permitted the United Arab Emirates?”

To begin generating power, the reactors must be loaded with thousands of uranium pellets, generating heat through a controlled nuclear reaction. Among the requirements is that the plant can safely be shut down in the event of a malfunction.

When all four reactors are working, Barakah is predicted to generate about a quarter of the UAE’s electricity needs. Its workforce is currently about 60 per cent Emirati, of which a quarter are women, the highest for any nuclear power company in the world.