Abu Dhabi:The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) officially commenced the construction of the UAE’s first nuclear energy plant Wednesday by pouring the first nuclear safety concrete for Barakah Unit 1, Mohammad Al Hammadi, CEO of ENEC, told the Gulf News in an interview.

“The safety concrete was poured at Barakah on Wednesday afternoon in front of a gathering including ENEC’s senior management and site team, and ENEC’s Prime Contractor, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO),” said Al Hammadi.

“ENEC poured more than 1,500 cubic metres of concrete to form a portion of the foundation slab of the Barakah Unit 1 Reactor Containment Building, which will ultimately house the nuclear reactor,” he added.

“Containment Buildings are amongst the safest and most secure structures in the world due to the thickness of their walls, the amount of reinforcing steel used, and an interior steel liner plate used in the structure,” explained Al Hammadi.

He said that in preparation for the safety concrete pouring, ENEC had carried out a number of activities on site under its Limited Construction License.

“Excavation for Units 1 and 2, dredging for the intake and outfall channels, construction of the marine breakwaters, wharf construction, excavation and construction of the Cooling Water Ducts and foundations for the safety related concrete were prepared,” Al Hammadi pointed out.

He added that the construction also included the installation of cathodic protection, layers of lean levelling concrete with waterproofing, structural rebar, embedment’s, piping, conduit, grounding cable and sump liners.

Al Hammadi stressed that the next phase of construction will include the continued pouring of concrete for the reactor containment building, auxiliary building, turbine building and cooling water structures.

“Reactor Building Containment Liner Plate onsite fabrication and installation using heavy lift crane will also have started by the end of 2012. Construction of Barakah Unit 1 will take five years, with the plant expected to become operational in 2017,” he commented.

As per location, Al Hammadi said: “Barakah was selected as the preferred site for the plant following a comprehensive analysis of multiple locations across the UAE. The analysis included seismic history, security, distance from large population centers, proximity to large supplies of water, and environmental considerations.”

He added: “One of the most important factors in the selection of Barakah was the fact that it is in an area with a very low probability of earthquakes or the so-called ‘low seismicity’ as studies have shown that the site area has been tectonically inactive for nearly 100 million years. The Arabian Gulf is also not an area with a history of tsunami activity.”

ENEC will apply for an Operating License for Unit 1 in 2015 and will pour concrete for Unit 2 in 2013. ENEC is building a total of four Units at the Barakah site. The first Unit will be operational in 2017 with one additional Unit becoming operational each year up to 2020.

“With four plants online by 2020, nuclear energy will save the UAE up to 12 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year,” he concluded.