Closely following India’s record breaking achievement of launching its first indigenously built reactor in 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become only the second country in the world, amidst the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, to start operations at the Arab world’s first nuclear power plant (NPP). Last month, India’s first fully indigenously built nuclear reactor at Kakrapar in Gujarat state achieved “criticality”, or a sustained fission chain reaction.
The UAE announced earlier this month that it has started operations in the first of four reactors at the Barakah nuclear power station. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), which is building and operating the plant jointly the with Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), said in a statement that its subsidiary Nawah Energy Company “has successfully started up Unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, located in the Al Dhafrah region of Abu Dhabi” on the Persian Gulf coast.
The Barakah NPP will be powered by 1,400 MW pressurised water reactors (PWRs) called APR-1400 designed in South Korea. Four reactors are planned to be installed at the Barakah plant, while the ENEC said it was committed to the “highest standards of safety and security” and that the plant would play an important role diversifying and decarbonising the UAE economy.
“The start-up of Unit 1 marks the first time that the reactor safely produces heat, which is used to create steam, turning a turbine to generate electricity,” the statement said.
“The Barakah plant will supply clean baseload electricity to the grid – complementing intermittent renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind, which are not able to generate electricity on a continuous basis. It will provide up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs once fully operational and will help prevent the release of 21 million tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to removing 3.2 millions cars off the road annually”, the statement added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has welcomed the Barakah Unit 1’s achievement of its first criticality. “This is an important milestone towards commercial operations and generating clean energy. IAEA has been supporting (the UAE) from the beginning of its nuclear power programme,” the United Nations nuclear watchdog tweeted.
The UAE has among the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, while also being richly endowed with renewable energy sources – sunlight and wind – and has launched a major programme of developing alternative energy sources, including nuclear and solar.
The Barakah plant was originally scheduled to start operations in 2017, but its opening was delayed for ensuring compliance with safety requirements, according to ENEC officials. Besides, the UAE has signed up to adhere to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, that allows for significant enhancing of inspection capabilities. It has also signed the 123 Agreement with the US that allows bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation. Moreover, in a further move to reassure about safety concerns, the UAE has agreed not to enrich its own uranium or reprocess spent fuel.