An operating license for a reactor for Barakah nuclear power plant has been issued, the first in the Arab world, hailing it as a “new chapter”. The UAE has substantial energy reserves, but with a power-hungry population of 10 million it has made huge investments in developing alternative power sources including solar.
“Today marks a new chapter in our journey for the development of peaceful nuclear energy with the issuing of the operating license for the first Barakah plant,” Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said in a tweet. “As we prepare for the next 50 years to safeguard our needs, our biggest strength is national talent.”
The Barakah plant, located on the Gulf coast west of the capital, had been due to come online in late 2017 but faced a number of delays that officials attributed to safety and regulatory requirements. The national nuclear regulator has now given the green light to the first of four reactors at the plant, Hamad Al-Kaabi, the UAE representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a press conference. Abu Dhabi authorities said in January that the plant would start operating within a few months. No new date was given yesterday but Kaabi indicated it would happen soon.
“The full operation of Barakah plant in the near future will contribute to the UAE’s efforts for development and sustainability,” he said, adding that the operator would “undertake a period of commissioning to prepare for commercial operation”. The plant is a regional first – Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, has said it plans to build up to 16 nuclear reactors, but the project has yet to materialize.
It is being built by a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation at a cost of some $24.4 billion. When fully operational, the four reactors have the capacity to generate 5,600 megawatts of electricity, around 25 percent of the nation’s needs. The remaining three reactors are almost ready.
As well as generating competitively priced electricity, the UAE also hopes the nuclear plant will elevate its status as a key regional player, building on its success in establishing itself as a center for tourism, banking and services. “This is part of the UAE’s drive to diversify its energy economy, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and project its image as a regional leader in science and technology,” one Gulf analyst told AFP. Other headline initiatives include a homegrown space program, which saw the first Emirati astronaut sent into space last year, and plans to launch a probe to Mars.