Construction of UAE’s first nuclear reactor complete but operation delayed to 2018

Construction of the first reactor of the UAE’s nuclear power plant has completed although its operation was pushed back to next year, the country’s nuclear operator announced.

The first reactor of the UAE's nuclear power plant has completed construction but operation is delayed until 2018. Wam
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ABU DHABI // Construction of the first nuclear reactor of the UAE’s atomic plant has been completed, although its operation will begin next year, said the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec).

Enec and the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) have completed the initial construction activities for Unit 1 of the Barakah plant.

The operating systems have been handed to Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of Kepco, for testing and commissioning to assure safety.

When the tests are completed, Nawah Energy Company (Nawah), a joint venture of Enec and Kepco, will be responsible for operating Unit 1.

Nawah is working with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Association of Nuclear Operators on the approach and timetable for the assessment of Unit 1’s operational readiness this year, said Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Nawah’s acting chief executive.

Enec said in a statement the delay of Unit 1’s operation to 2018 was to ensure “sufficient time for international assessments and adherence to nuclear industry safety standards, as well as a reinforcement of operational proficiency for plant personnel”.

Nuclear experts said preparing the operation of a new nuclear plant with regard to safety and security was of crucial importance.

“Much time, expertise and ­experience are needed, including advice from the IAEA and control from the suppliers of the technology used in the plant,” said John Bernhard, Denmark’s former envoy to the IAEA.

“It will generally also be necessary to apply many tests and exercises. It is equally important to make sure that you have highly qualified personnel at all levels to operate the plant, and that they are also trained to work with the plant.

“The so-called safety and security culture is important, that the personnel is trained to have a high degree of responsibility and awareness of risks, including the ability to act correctly under pressure. They have to handle emergency situations in a professional and calm way.”

Mr Bernhard said this was a significant and time-consuming challenge, especially for countries that are new to using nuclear power.

“It is always wise not to put a power plant into operation until you are 100 per cent certain that all the elements necessary for the safe and secure operation of the plant are in place,” he said.

“Therefore, my impression is also that delays both with regard to nuclear plants and other large energy infrastructure works are rather common.”

Construction of Unit 1 started in 2012. At its full operational capacity, the Barakah power plant’s four reactor units will deliver up to a quarter of the UAE’s electricity needs from carbon-free energy.