The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, which is being built by the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) 50 km from Ruwais, has four reactors totalling an installed capacity of 5600 MW, and is set to change the face of Abu Dhabi’s power generation.
Barakah will be the first nuclear energy plant in the Arab world, becoming an integral baseline power supplier for Abu Dhabi in the long term. Other energy sources will supplement its supply, including solar power, to which the emirate is particularly suited given its climate. It is a game-changing addition to the energy mix, which is currently heavily dependent on gas. Replacing some gas-fired power with nuclear energy should free up more natural gas for lucrative export, particularly with large domestic gas fields coming on-stream. Nuclear energy also produces fewer greenhouse gases than thermal power. A mix of nuclear energy, gas-fired power and renewables is therefore likely to emerge in the coming years.
“The UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme is already delivering significant economic and social benefits, and when fully operational, the Barakah plant will produce nearly 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs with nearly zero emissions, saving up to 21m tonnes of carbon emissions each year, equivalent to removing 3.2m sedan cars from the roads,” ENEC CEO, Mohamed Al Hammadi, told OBG. “The UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme is also a main component of the 2050 energy strategy, which seeks to diversify the UAE’s energy mix and reduce the carbon footprint of electricity generation by 70% over the next 30 years.”
In 2009 the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) was established to oversee and regulate the sector, bringing models of best practice from around the world and ensuring that the UAE’s nuclear energy industry conforms to global treaties. Also in 2009 the government created ENEC to be in charge of the development, ownership and operation of all nuclear energy plants nationally. That year ENEC awarded a contract for the construction of the country’s first nuclear energy plant to Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). Construction of the Barakah plant began in July 2012 and was 91% finished as of November 2018, with all concrete works and heavy equipment lifting for its four nuclear reactor units complete. The Nawah Energy Company, a joint venture operating and maintenance subsidiary owned by ENEC and KEPCO, completed a comprehensive operational readiness review on the plant in 2018. “The results of Nawah’s review forecasts that following the receipt of the operating licence, the loading of nuclear fuel assemblies required to commence nuclear operations at Barakah Unit 1 will occur between the end of 2019 and early 2020,” said Al Hammadi.
ENEC strives to ensure that the highest quality, safety and security standards are established as the foundations of the country’s nuclear industry. Nuclear waste will initially be stored in a spent fuel storage pool on site, and a national strategy for long-term storage of radioactive waste is currently under development.
Both international and Emirati contractors are playing a central role in the plant’s development, reflecting the emirate’s desire to harness the experience and dynamism of the private sector. An emphasis has been put on knowledge and technology transfer, thus ENEC is working with local universities, the International Atomic Energy Agency and international partners such as KEPCO to develop the local nuclear workforce. UAE nationals now make up around 60% of ENEC and its subsidiaries’ labour force.
More than 1500 UAE companies have already secured contracts totalling over $3.8bn for products and services to support the plant’s construction. ENEC is working with local suppliers to upgrade their systems and secure nuclear component certification from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which could provide opportunities for export to other nuclear energy-producing countries in the long term.
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