Operations at UAE’s pioneering Barakah nuclear plant are “on schedule” despite the Covid-19 outbreak, the chief executive of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation has said.
Speaking via video link to the Washington-based Atlantic Council, Mohammed Al Hammadi explained that, as a result of rigorous measures taken at the Barakah plant construction site, the virus had not affected the timetable for completion.
The nuclear plant, 50km southwest of Ruwais in Al Dhafra region, is the first such facility in the Arab world.
“Today we are on schedule,” Mr Al Hammadi said. “We are continuing with our plan and we will keep safety as the overriding priority … the current impact we have right now did not derail us from our plans.
"We are planning to go critical very soon. In a couple of weeks or month or so from now. We are targeting to get the units operational and start putting power to the grid before the end of the year."
The Enec head said leadership at the corporation had worked quickly to assess the “multifaceted crisis” presented by the pandemic.
“We assessed the situation that we were in seven weeks ago. We did stop all the non-essential work at Barakah. We demobilised people from the head office to 90-100 per cent. Almost everybody is working from home,” Mr Al Hammadi said.
“They looked at the construction site. Priority number one was to keep people safe and keep Covid-19 out of Barakah. That was the ultimate goal. Nothing else.”
He explained the site was swiftly locked down and workers were monitored and tested. As a result, there have been no Covid-19 cases at the site.
“They immediately [moved] to lockdown the site, demobilise the critical resources and continue. They got their heads down and they got the work done. We've observed the facility. Anyone leaves Barakah, they are not allowed to come back to make sure there is no introduction of the virus to the Barakah site,” he said.
“So the good news that I have today – we don't have a single positive case at the construction site.”
The Enec head said the conduct of leadership and workers at the plant in the Covid-19 outbreak, which he praised as exemplary, had been shared with the World Association of Nuclear Operators.
Mr Al Hammadi said moving forward the nuclear industry would have to continue adapting to the ongoing crisis.
“It's 12 months to 18 months if we are optimistic. We need to get used to the new norm of working with this Covid-19 and make sure the business and facilities are safe from this pandemic,” he said.
Mr Al Hamadi said the UAE’s nuclear programme was model for the world and had been planned and executed to the highest international standards.
“We had a clear commitment to the highest standards of non-proliferation, the highest standards of security, the highest standard of nuclear safety and nuclear quality,” he said.
“Today, if you ask the [International Atomic Energy Agency] they will say go to the UAE and look at the model to develop a civilian nuclear power plant and programme for a nation.”