Hamad Al Kaabi, UAE permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and deputy chairman of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) and Christer Viktorsson, FANR director general, address a press conference in Abu Dhabi on Friday Photo credit: Samihah Zaman, Senior Reporter

Abu Dhabi: The UAE issued the operating licence for the third reactor at the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in Abu Dhabi.

The licence was issued by nuclear sector regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), following a lengthy and thorough review process that began in 2017 when the plant operator Nawah Energy Company submitted the operation licence application. The operation licence for Unit 3, the third reactor at the plant, is valid for 60 years, and now authorises Nawah, a subsidiary of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), to commission and operate Unit 3.

The granting of the Unit 3 operation licence was announced at a press conference on Friday in Abu Dhabi by Hamad Al Kaabi, UAE permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and deputy chairman of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) and Christer Viktorsson, FANR director general.

The first two reactors at the plant are already operating commercially, and Nawah will now begin commissioning and testing Unit 3 in preparation for commercial operations.

The UAE’s Barakah plant is first nuclear power plant in the Arab World.

Clean energy

Barakah Plan is located in Abu Dhabi emirate’s western Al Dhafra region. When fully complete, the plant will deliver a total of 5,600 megawatts of clean energy to the UAE national grid, helping the country meet 25 per cent of its energy needs. At present, Units 1 and 2, which are operating commercially, are together delivering 2,800 megawatts of clean energy.

Rigorous review

“The decision to issue the Operating License is a culmination of efforts made by FANR since it received the Operating Licence Application from Nawah in 2017 for Units 3 and 4. FANR conducted the assessment of the application for the Unit 3, and adopted a systematic review process that included a thorough assessment of the application documentation, conducting robust regulatory oversight and inspections,” Viktorsson said at the Abu Dhabi press conference.

“The assessment included reviewing the plant’s layout design and the analysis of the site’s location in terms of geography and demography. It also looked into the reactor design, cooling systems, security arrangements, emergency preparedness, radioactive waste management and other technical aspects. FANR also assessed Nawah’s organisational and manpower readiness, with all the required processes and procedures to ensure the safety and security of nuclear power plant,” he added.

Safety and security

In response to a query from Gulf News, Viktorsson explained that the review process for Unit 3 had been similar to the procedure followed for Units 1 and 2.

“The third reactor is very similar to the first two technically, and they are all located on the same site in Barakah. Still, the 14,000-page application document from Nawah has to be reviewed. We needed to ensure that all the experience gained from licensing Units 1 and 2 were included. We also needed to inspect Unit 3, and ensure that it had been constructed under the safety standards. In addition, we have also [expended] a lot of efforts into the operational readiness of Nawah, which is very important. It is not just about the operational certification, but making sure that the operator has all the tools, training processes and procedures to operate the plant, and respond in case of incidents of various types. We also made sure that there are physical and cyber security arrangements, along with safeguards like cameras, competencies and skills,” Viktorsson said.

Emirati expertise

What also sets the licencing of Unit 3 apart is the FANR’s use of in-house resources, including 70 per cent Emirati expertise, for the review process.

“This is an indication of the success of our strategy to build local capabilities and skills for the operation and sustainability of the nuclear sector. We now have 157 reactor operators, including 50 Emiratis. And while external experts for the review and inspection of Unit 1, we used less external support for Unit 2 and even less for Unit 3,” Viktorsson added.

Another milestone

“This is another historic moment for the UAE, being the first Arab country in the region to operate a nuclear power plant and culminating efforts of 14 years in building such a programme. This milestone was achieved due to the UAE’s vision and its leadership to build a peaceful nuclear energy programme to cater for the future needs of energy in the country. The UAE Nuclear Energy Programme, including the nuclear law and regulations, conforms to the Safety Standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the international best practices, where FANR has ensured its implementation during the construction of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant. The decision announced today follows many years of intensive work and collaboration with national and international stakeholders such as International Atomic Energy Agency, Republic of Korea and other international regulatory bodies,” Al Kaabi said.

Commissioning period

Following the issuance of the Operating Licence for Unit 3, Nawah will undertake a period of commissioning to prepare for the commercial operation. During this stage, FANR will conduct around-the-clock inspections, using its resident inspectors located at the plant, and also deploy other inspectors to ensure the fuel load and power accession processes are completed according to regulatory requirements.

FANR issued the operating licences for Unit 1 in February 2020, and for Unit 2 in March 2021, then maintained regulatory oversight until the commercial operations of the units.

Nuclear programme

One of the principles of the UAE’s nuclear policy is transparency to which the Government of the United Arab Emirates has been committed to by adhering to international conventions and agreements such the IAEA’s Safeguard Agreement and its Additional Protocol and the Convention on Nuclear Safety and other instruments. Such commitments ensure the programme is designed for peaceful purposes and in line with national and international laws.

Unit 4

As of now, the construction of the fourth reactor at the Barakah plant is 92 per cent complete. Once it is finished, FANR will begin the review process required to issue the operating license.

Development of Barakah Nuclear Power Plant: A timeline
Development of Barakah Nuclear Power Plant: A timeline
April 2008: UAE nuclear policy released
April 2009: UAE signs additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
July 2009: UAE signs Convention on Nuclear Safety
September 2009: UAE issues Nuclear Law; Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) established
December 2009: Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) established
March 2010: First nuclear licence issued
July 2010: FANR issues two licences for preparation of site, and the construction of a nuclear facility
December 2010: ENEC submits construction licence application for the UAE’s first nuclear power plant to FANR
March 2011: FANR asks ENEC to evaluate the Fukushima nuclear accident
July 2012: Construction licence issued for Barakah plant Unit 1 and Unit 2
February 2013: Construction licence applications for Barakah Unit 3 and Unit 4 submitted
February 2015: IAEA’s experts commend UAE’s progress on nuclear regulatory framework
March 2015: Operating license application for Barakah plant Unit 1 and Unit 2 submitted
November 2016: IAEA expert team completes security review
January 2017: FANR issues first fresh nuclear fuel licence
March 2017: Operating licence application for Barakah plant Unit 3 and Unit 4 submitted
June 2018: UAE nuclear infrastructure praised by IAEA mission
September 2018: FANR certifies first and second groups of senior Reactor Operators
February 2020: FANR issues Operating Licence for Unit 1 at Barakah plant
August 2020: Barakah Unit 1 reaches Criticality phase, a normal operating condition in thew reactor to produce energy using nuclear fuel; Barakah Unit 1 connected to UAE national grid
March 2021: FANR issues Operating Licence for Unit 2 at Barakah plant
April 2021: Barakah plant Unit 1 commercial operations begin
August 2021: Barakah Unit 2 reaches Criticality phase
September 2021: Barakah Unit 2 connected to UAE national grid
March 2022: Barakah plant Unit 2 commercial operations begin
June 2022: FANR issues Operating Licence for Unit 3 at Barakah plant