A view of the Barakah nuclear plant units 1 and 2. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) on Tuesday approved the operating licence for the second nuclear reactor — Unit 2 — at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant.

The nuclear regulator made the announcement during a press conference, adding that operating licence for the Unit will be valid for the next 60 years. Work will now begin to test and start up the unit, including fuel loading and power ascension until Unit 2 reaches 100 per cent power. Unit 2 will then be connected to the grid.

Commercial operations

The operating approval for Unit 2 follows the linking of Unit 1 at the power plant to the national grid. Unit 1 was granted its operating licence in February 2020, after which fuel loading and power ascension were safely completed, said Hamad Al Kaabi, UAE Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and FANR’s Deputy Chairman. Al Kaabi said Unit 1 is expected to begin commercial operations by the end of the month, marking another major milestone in the UAE’s journey towards the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The power plant in Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra area will eventually have four operating units upon completion, and is then expected to supply 25 per cent of the UAE’s peak power. It is owned by the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, and operated and maintained by its subsidiary, the Nawah Energy Company.

Licensed application review

FANR officials said the decision to issue the operating licence is a culmination of efforts by FANR since it received the licence application from ENEC, on behalf of Nawah, in 2015 for Units 1 and 2. FANR followed a systematic review process that included a thorough assessment of the application documentation, conducting robust regulatory oversight and inspections.

The assessment included reviewing the plant’s layout design and the analysis of the site’s location in terms of geography and demography. The assessment also included 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.

FANR reviewed the 14,000-page Operating Licence application for Units 1 and 2, and conducted more than 220 inspections. It also requested approximately 59 additional pieces of information for Unit 2 on various matters related to reactor design, safety and other issues to ensure the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant’s complete compliance with all regulatory requirements.

Historic moment

“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 13 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,” Al Kaabi said.

“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,” he added.

Ongoing inspections

As Nawah now undertakes a period of commissioning to prepare for the commercial operation of the plant, FANR will continue to conduct around-the-clock inspections, using its resident inspectors located the site of the power plant.

From left: Sarah Al Saadi, Hamad Al Kaabi and Christer Viktorsson, FANR director general at the press conference. Image Credit: Supplied

To ensure implementing the highest international standards of nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation, the UAE received in the past decade 11 major peer review missions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to review and assess various aspects from nuclear infrastructure, the legal and regulatory system, nuclear safety, nuclear security, emergency preparedness and non-proliferation. The reports from the missions of the IAEA — global centre of cooperation for the nuclear energy — are publicly available.

One of the principles of the nuclear policy is transparency to which the UAE 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.

Overall progress

While Units 1 and 2 at the power plant are completely built, construction of Unit 3 is 94 per cent complete. Work on Unit 4 is also 88 per cent complete. Overall, the construction progress for the plant is at 95 per cent.

The project has also allowed for the development of Emirati nuclear experts, said Sara Al Saadi, director of nuclear security acting director of nuclear safety at FANR. “More than 90 senior plant operators are Emirati, and a number of Emirati employees at FANR employees have been trained on nuclear safety,” Al Saadi said.

In response to media queries, Al Saadi added that the power plant is also well protected from external threats, including advanced cybersecurity measures.