Unit 1 in UAE's first nuclear plant set to be completed next year

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As energy demands in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continue to grow, the nation is on track for completion of a massive nuclear power plant.

The UAE, a nation of more than 9.3 million people, has seen energy usage grow at a rate of 9 percent per year, the World Nuclear Association said. Despite being a major exporter of oil – roughly 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product comes from oil, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said – the UAE is working on a new way to keep its own lights on.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) is seven years into a project that will bring nuclear energy to the UAE. The Barakah project, consisting of four APR-1400 reactors, is scheduled to be completed in 2020.

ENEC CEO Mohamed Al Hammadi said nuclear energy is the right choice for the UAE  because it is a “safe, clean and proven technology.”

“It is commercially viable and delivers significant volumes of base-load electricity with nearly zero carbon emissions,” Al Hammadi told Gulf News Journal. “Nuclear energy plays a strategic role in guaranteeing the sustained growth of the UAE; it will help the nation diversify its portfolio away from fossil-fuel electricity generation, while increasing energy sustainability and energy security.”

After a five-year-long evaluation process by a team of 75 experts, Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) won the bid to build the reactors in 2009. Al Hammadi said KEPCO had the experience they were looking for.

“The largest factor in deciding to go with the Korean Electric Power Corporation was its position as a leader in safety, plant reliability and efficiency, and its 30-plus years of experience in nuclear technology and operation," Al Hammadi said.

KEPCO is the largest electric utility in South Korea and the world’s third-largest nuclear energy company, with 25 commercial nuclear reactors in operation, Al Hammadi said.

The first of four nuclear reactors at Barakah is set to open in 2017. The project is on track to make that deadline. Altogether, the project is 58 percent complete, Al Hammadi said.

“All of the milestones of the UAE peaceful nuclear energy program are subject to stringent regulatory approval," Al Hammadi said. "ENEC, as the owner, developer and operator of the Barakah project, is fully focused on delivering the UAE a peaceful nuclear energy program in a safe and quality-driven manner,” Hammadi said. “It will eventually consist of four nuclear power generating units, safely housed in two plants, with a combined capacity of approximately 5,600 MW.”

So far, ENEC has safely met 13 project milestones in accordance with the original project timeline, something Al Hammadi called a “remarkable achievement."

Though the project is advancing smoothly, Al Hammadi said it has not been without challenges. The most difficult thing ENEC has encountered bringing nuclear power to the UAE has been developing industry and regulatory framework. Al Hammadi said the UAE government has drawn on experiences of the global nuclear energy industry to do so.

“The UAE government has worked closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency to adopt and implement best practices and guidelines for the development of a peaceful nuclear energy program,” Al Hammadi said. “The program is built on the most rigorous standards of safety, transparency and security. As a result, the UAE has received international praise for its policy commitments in the development of its nuclear energy program. Since its establishment in 2009, ENEC has continued to grow and develop from a small energy start-up into a world-class nuclear energy operating company with a team of more than 1,600 people.”

When the Barakah plant is completed, it will be able to generate as much as a quarter of the nation’s electricity needs, ENEC said.

“Nuclear energy will bring clean energy to the UAE -- electricity created with near-zero CO2 emissions that will save up to 12 million tons of carbon emissions every year," Al Hammadi said. "Nuclear energy will also bring a more diversified energy portfolio to the UAE, reducing our dependence on fossil fuel electricity generation. It will also bring jobs and drive the growth of a new high-tech industry in the UAE for decades to come."

The Barakah nuclear energy plant is bringing more than electricity to the UAE. Through the development of this plant, Hammadi said ENEC has aided in the growth of local economies – and aided education.

“We are also supporting the growth of the UAE’s economy through the participation of over 1,100 local companies with over $2.5 billion worth of local contracts awarded in the development of Barakah,” Al Hammadi said. “This has been achieved through ENEC supporting local companies in order to raise their quality standards to meet the high requirements of the nuclear industry.”

ENEC’s Energy Pioneers program is training 400 students in the UAE – through academic and professional institutions – to operate its plants.

Nuclear energy plants can operate for up to 24 months at a time without interruption and require very little fuel, ENEC said.

Al Hammadi said the reasons for pursuing nuclear energy in the Middle East are similar to the UAE – diversification away from fossil fuels.

“Developing a reliable supply of electricity is critical to the future of the nation in order to diversify supply so the country is not reliant on one source of energy,” Al Hammadi said.

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