More Emiratis needed for UAE nuclear industry, says new chief

Christer Viktorsson, who took over as director general of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation on June 1, said more work was needed to encourage Emiratis to become nuclear engineers.

Christer Viktorsson, director general of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation says more work was needed to encourage Emiratis to become nuclear engineers. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // The new head of the nuclear energy regulator says training a generation of Emirati scientists to run the industry is a major priority.

Christer Viktorsson, 66, who became director general of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation on June 1, said Emiratis needed to be encouraged to become nuclear engineers. About 57 per cent of the authority’s 186 workers are Emirati.

“We want to go higher but we need to get more of them in. We need to get them trained to take on key positions,” said the Swedish-Finnish national, who was Fanr’s deputy director general for operations.

Fanr has Emiratis in charge of departments including security and inspections, but Mr Viktorsson said he wanted “to see Emiratis grow because they have to take over” all areas of operation.

“This country cannot rely completely on us expatriates so my message to Fanr has been that we need to push this Emiratisation harder,” he said.

Fanr will boost its training and mentoring, he said. “It needs to be more systematic and stronger so they can see career ladders, because there have been some Emiratis who have left.”

“I do not know exactly why but this could be one reason,” Mr Viktorsson said.

Fanr also plans to strengthen its links with universities to train more national nuclear engineers. The authority already has internship programmes with Khalifa University and has just received three interns from Sharjah University.

Mr Viktorsson said they would be moved between departments and offered jobs at the end of their internships if they wanted.

But the acceptance of jobs was still low as nuclear engineering “was considered a new discipline in this country”.

“I see it increasing and universities are taking this up but it takes years to do,” Mr Viktorsson said. “But with our joint effort, we will succeed, I am sure, because we already have so many good Emiratis on board.

“So I am extremely optimistic but it needs effort.”

The next step for the programme will be to place more of the authority’s inspectors on site at the nuclear power plant in Barakah in the Western Region.

“It is now a very important phase for Reactor 1 because it goes from construction to testing everything they have built before it is put in operation, and our inspectors check that this is done according to our procedures,” he said.

“This is essential and we will strengthen that office.”

Mr Viktorsson, a nuclear physicist, began his career in his home country of Finland, producing isotopes for cancer treatment centres in hospitals.

He then moved to Sweden to work in the nuclear power industry, where his job involved inspecting welds and pipes in radiation protection areas.

“I learnt how a nuclear power plant looks like from inside,” Mr Viktorsson said. “I then moved to the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority and then Chernobyl happened after that. It was a very dramatic time and I became project leader in this field.”

He later became a nuclear energy specialist for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and then joined the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, where he worked on safety standards and other policy issues.

Mr Viktorsson moved to Abu Dhabi to work with Fanr in 2008.