Trainees learn to deal with an array of potentially catastrophic scenarios at this training simulator in Barakah. Christopher Pike / The National
Trainees learn to deal with an array of potentially catastrophic scenarios at this training simulator in Barakah. Christopher Pike / The National

Training the UAE’s nuclear pioneers at the Barakah plant

ABU DHABI // The five consoles in the Barakah nuclear plant training simulator may not look like much, but they are a second home for students learning to operate the complex systems at the plant.

The Emirati trainees, in groups of five at a time, spend hundreds of hours during the final six months of the two-year Energy Pioneers programme behind those consoles. They learn to deal with an array of potentially catastrophic steam generator tube ruptures, jammed valves or leaks at the nuclear facility.

“Part of Fanr’s [the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation] requirement is to be trained on fundamentals related to physics and the nuclear power plant,” said reactor operator Ali Ibrahim Al Nuaimi. “You study courses on the system, you have to understand everything that’s on the plant. And then you go through the simulator training, which is aimed at gaining the highest level of knowledge and training on a real-life plant.”

The software developed in the system simulates all the nuclear plant’s systems, including the reactor itself, the steam generator, turbines, controls and the condensating system.

“We make sure we have full power and we develop scenarios to see how operators will mitigate accidents,” said simulator manager Cherif Desouky.

“Every one or two years, operators need to get a requalification, like a pilot. It’s a core element of the power plant and without the simulator, you can’t run the plant and you wouldn’t have any operator’s licence.”

Korean, American and French experts train students in the simulator. The first part of the training, which lasts a year and a half, begins in Abu Dhabi in the fields of reactor operations, radiological protection and maintenance.

In between breaks, students must also do on-the-job training in South Korea. The next step is six months of on-site experience in the plant’s “red zone” where students are expected to complete 1,040 hours.

Training courses are being held to get as many young Emiratis on board to meet shortages of skilled staff in the industry.

“The nuclear programme is a long-term programme extending beyond 100 years,” said Hamad Alkaabi, UAE permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Development of a qualified local cadre is crucial for the long-term success and sustainability of the sector. Training young Emiratis and their early involvement in the sector is key to ensuring that they are qualified and ready for future leading positions.”

With electricity demand expected to increase beyond 2020, he said the UAE was very likely to consider expanding the programme by building additional reactors to the present four.

“We will see more trained Emirati engineers and technicians working at the plant and supporting its operation,” said Mr Alkaabi.

The nuclear plant is expected to be completed on time and on budget, with the first reactor operational next year. “It’s going extremely well when compared with any other plant in the world,” said Lady Barbara Judge, former head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

“I am incredibly impressed with the diligence of the people working on it and how committed they are to getting it done to a very high standard.”

Emiratis should feel that the nuclear plant is their own, said Lady Judge, who is also a member of the international advisory board for the development of nuclear energy in the UAE.

“They should have their own people running their own plant for the benefit of their country. That would be true energy independence,” she said.

She said a shortage of skilled staff in the industry was a global challenge. “I think the Emiratis are handling it the best way they can by sending their own students abroad to various good universities in the US and the UK to get trained,” she said.

“They’ve also set up courses in Abu Dhabi to train many young people while bringing people onboard as apprentices. So they’re trying to set it up as one of the most impressive and important professions for young people by giving them the means to acquire the necessary education to be effective for the job at the plant.”

Christer Viktorsson, director general of Fanr, said the authority’s highest priority was to train and educate young Emiratis who would oversee nuclear energy production in the UAE for decades to come.

“Nuclear regulators are depending on a corps of skilled and experienced staff,” he said.

“Some of those Emiratis will serve as resident inspectors at the Barakah nuclear power plant, helping to ensure compliance with all the regulations.”


Barakah by numbers:

• More than 19,000 people are currently working at the site of the Barakah nuclear power plant.

• All four units and the associated subsidiary buildings are now more than 58 per cent complete.

• By 2020, it will need approximately 2,500 highly trained personnel — the operators, engineers, technicians and support staff responsible for the safe operations of the plant.

• All four units will save up to 12 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year.

• There have been 7,500 dedicated safety training sessions since the beginning of the programme

• 41,000 man-hours have been dedicated to performing rigorous quality audits

• 1,070,376 cubic metres of concrete have already been used in the construction of the Barakah units, which is more than three times the total value of concrete used in the Burj Khalifa

• More than 1,700 employees work at Enec, of which more than 61 per cent are Emirati

• More than 20 per cent of Enec employees are women

• More than 90 women are based in Barakah

• More than 27 per cent of students in Enec’s educational programmes are female

• Around 400 students are enrolled by Enec at top academic and professional institutions to prepare to operate the plant

• Enec hosted 21 public forums so far attended by more than 6,600 UAE residents.

• Enec selected a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) to design, build and help operate the plant after a year-long evaluation process run by a team of 75 experts in the field.

• As of December 2015, Unit 1 is more than 84 per cent complete, Unit 2 is 64 per cent complete, Unit 3 is 41 per cent complete and Unit 4 is 25 per cent complete.

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