Russia offers expertise that will take Emirati nuclear engineers to top of their game

Emirati nuclear engineering students could soon undergo training at Russian universities as part of a programme to help boost the UAE’s nuclear power sector.

The first generation of nuclear engineering students is honing their skills and Russia has offered to help. Ravindranath K / The National
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MOSCOW // Emirati engineering students could soon undertake training at Russian universities as part of a programme to help boost the UAE’s nuclear power sector.

Training and education is important for countries looking to develop their own nuclear capacity, according to Valery Karezin, head of human resources at Rosatom, Russia’s atomic energy body.

“If the country is a newcomer, the challenge is the creation of its own programme for training,” said Mr Karezin.

In October, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation and Korea Electric Power Corporation signed an agreement which Mohammed Al Hammadi, Enec’s chief executive, said would bring 40 years of experience to the UAE.

A few months earlier Japanese professors were flown into the country to hold workshops for Emirati students and share lessons learnt from the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Speaking at the atomic energy forum AtomExpo in Moscow, Mr Karezin said there are plans for Russia to work with the UAE in nuclear education.

“Until recently we did not have any close cooperation but there will be,” he said.

“Russian and Emirati universities will work in the exchange of students. We are open for discussions and we’re waiting for a decision from our universities to start this.”

He said areas where staff need more training include nuclear infrastructure, operators, engineers, research and development staff who help support the project.

At the Barakah power plant, Emirati trainees spend hundreds of hours during the two-year Energy Pioneers programme learning how to deal with potentially catastrophic scenarios in a simulator.

A strong grasp of maths and physics means nuclear engineering students are not short of job opportunities.

“A recent study found that nuclear majors have the lowest unemployment rate. I was surprised as there are few ‘nuclear engineering’ jobs but those with nuclear backgrounds can go into many other sectors such as finance, management, environmental, medical and industrial research and applications,” said Dr Anthony Hechanova, head of advanced energy engineering technology at Abu Dhabi Polytechnic.

The programme he heads at Abu Dhabi Polytechnic is tailored to prepare young people to operate, maintain and manage a nuclear plant.

“This is what we call career technical education,” Dr Hechanova said.

“The skills and expertise are very different than those of an engineer, who can design mechanical and electrical systems while the technical workforce has to operate and maintain these systems and keep them and the workforce safe. This requires a vastly different knowledge and skillset.”

Nuclear specialists are at the cutting edge of technologies, he said.

“In the UAE, the advent of commercial nuclear power production is a game changer in this fossil fuel rich region,” he said.

“The importance of diversification will be felt every time the price of oil and gas fluctuates. Nuclear power will allow fossil resources to be preserved and the wealth of the nation and sustainability of the Earth to be extended and expanded.”

Lady Barbara Judge, former head of the UK Atomic Energy Agency, said countries would generally train their staff locally, although the UK, the US and Russia, along with France, Japan have the most expertise.

“With new nuclear countries like the UAE, they are training many at home as well as sending many abroad” she said. “Once the nuclear education programme is fully up and running, then they’ll train most at home. I am very impressed by the excellence of the education programme that the UAE has created.” ​