Arab world’s first nuclear plant located in the UAE starts commercial operation

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The Arab world’s first nuclear power plant (NPP) located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has started commercial operations. Unit 1 of the Barakah NPP in Abu Dhabi has entered commercial service, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) announced last month. The Barakah unit 1 started up in August last year, with the UAE, thus, becoming only the second country in the world to start nuclear operations amidst the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Earlier, India launched its first indigenously built 700 MW reactor at Kakrapar in July 2020.

The start of commercial operations at Barakah follows a period of extensive testing overseen by the national regulator – the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). The FANR has conducted 312 independent inspections since the start of the NPP’s development. These reviews have been conducted alongside more than 42 assessments and reviews conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), the ENEC said.

The company also said that the 1,400 MW unit, which reached 100 percent reactor power capacity in December during testing, is currently providing “constant, reliable and sustainable electricity around the clock”, adding that the unit “is now leading the largest decarbonisation effort of any industry in the UAE to date”.

“Our investment in pioneering technologies and the decarbonisation of our electricity production not only advances the UAE’s clean energy leadership, but also produces tangible socio-economic and environmental benefits,” ENEC Chairperson Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak said in a statement.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan described it as a “historic milestone” for the country. “The start of commercial operations at the Barakah nuclear energy plant is a historic milestone for the UAE that significantly enhances the sustainability of our entire power sector”, he tweeted.

The ENEC is building and operating the plant, located in the Al Dhafrah region of Abu Dhabi on the Persian Gulf coast, jointly the with the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). 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 plant, while the ENEC said it was committed to the “highest standards of safety and security”.

According to the ENEC “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 percent 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 million cars off the road annually.”

At the time the Barakah Unit 1 achieved its first criticality last year, the IAEA said: “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 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 enhancement of inspection capabilities. It has also signed the 123 Agreement with the US that allows bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation. Moreover, in a move to further reassure about safety concerns, the UAE has agreed not to enrich its own uranium or reprocess spent fuel.

The ENEC subsidiary in charge of the financial and commercial activities of the project, Barakah One Company, has signed a power purchase agreement with the Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC) in 2016 to purchase all electricity generated at the plant for the next 60 years.

The NPP’s second unit has been issued an operating licence in March this year by the UAE nuclear regulator FANR. The FANR Deputy Chairman and the UAE’s representative to the IAEA, Hamad Al Kaabi, also said that the construction of Barakah units 3 and 4 are 94 percent and 87 percent complete, respectively.

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