Nuclear power plant security unveiled

Details of the massive security cordon that will protect the UAE's nuclear power plants have been revealed.

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ABU DHABI // First details of the massive security cordon that will protect the UAE's nuclear power plants were unveiled yesterday. Each of the four plants, scheduled to go online in 2017, will have a security detail of 160 personnel. Troops on land and at sea will ensure a 1.2-kilometre "protective bubble" around the facilities. And the plants will be strong enough to withstand the impact of a Boeing 777 aircraft - an engineering feat that will require nearly a million cubic metres of concrete, three times the amount used in the Burj Khalifa.

The plan was announced by Maj Mohamed al Shamsi, manager of the security and nuclear power protection department at the Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA), in response to concerns raised by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is the first time the CNIA has disclosed any details of its plans to secure the nuclear sites. Maj al Shamsi added: "For maritime security, there are sea patrols that will be similar to how we deal with protecting petroleum and gas infrastructure. We have a lot of experience in maintaining security from the sea after bringing in the Coast Guards and the Marine Police.

"When we take all the security preparations and legislation into account, we are sure that no attacks will happen. We will leave nothing to chance." Both the Coast Guard and the Marine Police, who are charged with protecting maritime infrastructure, became part of the CNIA after its creation in 2007. The authority has developed three separate security plans: one to secure the site as it is being prepared for construction, another after building begins, and a third that will be implemented when the power plants are activated. Maj al Shamsi declined to provide specific figures for how much securing the nuclear power plants would cost, pointing out that the technology available will probably be different by 2017.

Last month the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) recommended Braka, a small strip of land 350km south-west of Abu Dhabi, as the ideal location for the power plants. The capital's nuclear energy regulator will decide in early July whether to approve the choice. Maj al Shamsi said Braka was picked from three finalists because of "how easy it is to defend". "With nuclear sites, there are lots of dangers and it's an international concern, but we guarantee their security," he said.

A South Korean consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation has been chosen to build the four plants at a cost of $20 billion (Dh73bn). Within a decade, the Government expects the four plants to deliver almost a quarter of Abu Dhabi's power and to be staffed by more than 2,000 engineers and other workers. "We insist on adopting transparency in developing peaceful nuclear programmes to strengthen the trust of the international community in us, and to clear any fears they have about the peacefulness of our nuclear programme," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Tahnoun al Nahyan, the CNIA's president.

IAEA officials said the UAE's approach to its nuclear programme was "exemplary". "Until this moment they are on a very good track," said Dorel Popescu, an expert on nuclear security at the IAEA and a former nuclear inspector. "They are at the beginning but I think they have done the best and they are very well supported by the Government," he added. Dr Popescu said the discussions fell within the IAEA's goal of a nuclear weapons-free Middle East. Safeguarding the UAE's power plants was a matter of concern for its neighbours and the international community, he said.

The UAE was committed to non-proliferation, he said, adding that the UAE regularly gives the nuclear watchdog access to its plans and is co-operative with the organisation. "The decision of the UAE to go for nuclear power as a solution is a very good decision. The legislation which is in place now is peaceful and does not look to proliferation at all," he said. Maj al Shamsi and Dr Popescu were speaking at a five-day conference on nuclear security that began yesterday.

It is organised by the UAE's nuclear authorities and regulators, which include the CNIA, ENEC and the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, along with the IAEA. The aim is to provide the UAE with an outline of best international practices that would enable the Government to protect its power stations against terrorist attacks, reactor meltdowns and the trafficking of nuclear materials.