The UAE's nuclear regulator has issued a licence to switch on Barakah's second reactor, officials announced on Tuesday.
Now, the plant operators have permission to switch on the second of four units in the coming days.
The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (Fanr) regulates the nuclear plant at Barakah, which is run by Nawah, a subsidiary of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec).
Following the issuing of the licence, Nawah will undertake a period of commissioning to prepare for the commercial operation, during which the fuel load, power ascension and testing processes will take place.
First reactor close to commercial operations
The first reactor is “very close” to providing commercial supply to the UAE’s power grid, said Hamad Al Kaabi, UAE permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency and Fanr’s deputy chairman.
"Last year, Unit 1 was licensed by Fanr and started to commission the unit, linked it to the electrical grid, and also increased the power ascension gradually. Now the reactor is connected to grid and provides electricity. We expect the test period will come to an end this year and the commercial use will be announced soon," he said.
He said commercial operations can only start after the testing phase, which is normally around a year, depending on the testing programme.
Mr Al Kaabi said Fanr had taken a lot of steps regarding management of nuclear waste in its regulations.
“In the design of the plant, we have many procedures related to where the radioactive waste the placed inside the plant itself. As well, we will store it for 60 years. We have also established a decommissioning fund that includes the management and handling of radioactive waste.“
Overall construction of Barakah has reached more than 95 per cent. The first and second reactor are fully built, while the third and fourth reactors are 94 per cent and 88 per cent complete, respectively.
Once Barakah's four reactors are on line, the plant will deliver reliable electricity for decades, providing about a quarter of the country’s electricity.
Enec previously said the subsequent reduction in fossil fuel use would cut 21 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually. That is the equivalent to taking 3.2 million cars off the roads each year.
The UAE generates about 98 per cent of its domestic power from gas-fired stations, which is expected to steadily fall as Barakah begins to generate power for commercial use.
UAE exporting expertise
Countries in the region have sought the UAE's assistance in developing their nuclear programmes.
Mr Al Kaabi said the UAE was working through the IAEA to provide local expertise to nuclear programmes.
"Our expertise and experience has led to many enquiries from other countries who are interested in developing a nuclear energy," he said.
"As for Arab countries, we have received some interest to know more about the nuclear energy programme and to establish and communication and co-ordination and training to learn from us.
“Also, in Khalifa University, there is a centre established by the IAEA to develop the infrastructure. It's an important centre to provide more exposure on the UAE's expertise.”
He said Fanr has nearly 260 employees, who have been working in the licensing process and the development of the institution. More than 100 of those are Emiratis, who have trained and developed during the time the UAE advanced its nuclear programme.
This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. An earthquake and tsunami in 2011 led to a meltdown at three nuclear units of the nuclear plant and left about 19,000 people dead or missing.
Mr Al Kaabi said at the time of Fukushima, the UAE was in the process of reviewing its licensing application and implemented many of the lessons learnt from that disaster.
“We actually adopted a very systematic approach for the stress test that resulted in the Enec and Nawah proposing additional improvements in the design, based on lessons learned from Fukushima. These improvements have implemented as part of the lessons process,” he said.
He said Fanr would continue to monitor updates and the extraction of any new lessons.