Barakah: delivering the vision9 December 2020
Start up of the UAE’s first nuclear power plant earlier this year was the culmination of a decade of planning, construction and development. Mohamed Al Hammadi, chief executive officer of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) speaks to NEI about the achievement and what it means for the country
Above: Once fully operational, Barakah will meet up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs while preventing the release of 21 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually
The UAE recently became the first peaceful nuclear operating nation in the Arab world, what are your thoughts on the accomplishment?
The start up and grid connection of the first unit of the Barakah nuclear energy plant is a truly historic moment for our nation. Through the success of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation’s (ENEC) development of the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme and its cornerstone Barakah plant, we have demonstrated the intellectual capacity and know-how to safely construct and operate a state-of-the-art nuclear energy plant.
I am especially proud of our talented teams at ENEC and Nawah Energy Company (Nawah), our joint-venture operations and maintenance subsidiary, which is operating Unit 1 in line with UAE nuclear regulatory requirements, and the highest international standards of safety and quality.
The Barakah plant is not just a power plant; it is an engine of growth for the nation. In addition to supporting electrification and the decarbonisation of the power sector by producing clean baseload electricity, the plant has created a new energy sector for UAE nationals to thrive in through the development of highly skilled, high-value careers. It has also stimulated the development of an entirely new industrial sector and local supply chain to service the plant throughout its operations over the next 60 years.
The startup and grid connection of Barakah 1 is the culmination of more than a decade of vision, strategic planning and robust programme management. Despite the recent global challenges brought about by COVID-19, our people have demonstrated an outstanding resilience and commitment to delivering one of the most ambitious clean electricity transformations in the region and the world, setting our nation on a new track of sustainable development.
With Unit 1 delivering safe, clean, efficient and reliable electricity to the UAE grid after reaching 50% power to support the sustainable social and economic growth of the UAE, we are already contributing to the realisation of the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 and the nation’s energy security goals.
The UAE Energy Strategy 2050 aims for 50% of the UAE’s energy to come from renewables and nuclear energy, a reduction of carbon emissions by 70% and an increase of energy efficiency by 40%.
At ENEC, we are proud that the nuclear energy industry in the UAE is already playing a critical role in delivering on these ambitious targets, thereby helping to secure an economically and environmentally sustainable future for the nation.
How is the construction and commission of the remaining three units at Barakah progressing?
Barakah, in the Al Dhafra Region of Abu Dhabi, consists of four identical APR1400 units. Unit 1 started construction in 2012, with each subsequent unit starting approximately one year after the previous one.
In mid-July 2020, just prior to announcing the start-up and connection of Barakah 1 to the electricity transmission grid of the UAE, we announced that we successfully completed the construction of Barakah 2. Nawah is now progressing safely and steadily with the required operational readiness activities. These include the completion of various tests, regulatory inspections, and international assessments, which are required to obtain the operating licence for Unit 2 from the UAE’s independent nuclear regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR).
In parallel to the above activities and despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to progress successfully with the construction and commissioning of Barakah 3 and 4. Unit 3 completed hot functional testing earlier this year, and Unit 4 completed cold hydrostatic testing.
One of the main benefits of building four identical units at the same time is that we can benefit from the experience and lessons learned during the construction of units 1 and apply those directly to the following units. This has resulted in numerous efficiency gains on Units 3 and 4, which are now 93% and 86% complete, respectively.
What steps has ENEC taken to ensure that the UAE’s nuclear energy technology is in line with global nuclear safety standards?
In April 2008, the United Arab Emirates released its nuclear energy policy “The Evaluation and Potential Development of Peaceful Nuclear Energy”. The policy is built on the highest standards of safety, transparency and security and it emphasises six key principles, which continue to guide us today:
- Complete operational transparency
- The highest standards of non-proliferation
- The highest standards of safety and security
- Working directly with the IAEA and conforming to its standards
- Partnerships with responsible nations and appropriate experts
- Long-term sustainability
Our commitment to these principles is just as strong today as it was in 2008 and this has been, and continues to be, the key to our success. The Barakah plant is the cornerstone of the UAE programme, and has been rigorously assessed by national and international experts and regulatory bodies from the time we selected the Barakah site through to the most recent reviews and inspections during the startup of Unit 1 and its connection to the UAE electricity transmission grid.
In addition to rigorous reviews by FANR, senior nuclear experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) conducted a series of voluntary, independent assessments of the robustness of the operating infrastructure and the proficiency of the operations personnel who are now working to bring Unit 1 into full commercial operation. To date, more than 280 inspections in Abu Dhabi, the USA and South Korea have been undertaken by FANR, as well as over 40 missions and reviews by the IAEA and WANO.
For example, WANO’s Pre-Start Up Review (PSUR) is a globally recognised nuclear industry assessment which is conducted in line with international industry standards. The operational readiness assessment was performed earlier this year by an international team of nuclear industry experts from WaNO Atlanta Center, who visited our offices in Abu Dhabi and the Barakah Plant over a two- week period. Their objective and independent assessment concluded that Barakah 1 was ready to start up.
Barakah meets all national and international regulatory requirements and standards for nuclear safety, and the APR1400 reactor design has been certified for use in South Korea by the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS), by FANR, and most recently by the US-based Nuclear Regulatory Commission in May 2019.
We are incredibly proud of the safe and quality-led manner in which Barakah has been developed and we are committed to ensuring safety remains our highest priority throughout the 60 years of operations ahead.
What are some of the precautionary measures put in place to safeguard the health and safety of workers at Barakah in the wake of the pandemic?
In the nuclear industry, we already have a ‘safety first’ mindset, and at the onset of the pandemic we immediately implemented a range of measures to effectively mitigate its impact and protect the health, safety and wellbeing of employees at the plant and at our headquarters.
The majority our employees based in our headquarters began working remotely and the number of workers at Barakah was significantly reduced. We then implemented a series of measures in line with UAE government guidelines and in collaboration with our Korean partners, including frequent sanitisation of common spaces and surfaces, strict enforcement of social distancing, mandatory mask and gloves wearing, regular temperature checks, universal PCR-based testing of all personnel prior to site entry and statistically-representative sentinel testing of those already at site, as well as testing wastewater from the project site for COVID-19 in order to quickly identify any occurrences. We took a holistic approach through the testing of the entire site population, when required.
Back in March, we established a dedicated management team comprised of representatives from ENEC and all its subsidiaries and partners responsible for monitoring and revising the precautionary measures in place to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees and contractors at the Barakah site.
Throughout this time, we have been in contact with other nuclear plant operators around the world through WANO, to exchange information and share experience on measures implemented at their facilities. We were pleased to see that we were one of the most proactive companies to put in place such extensive measures to protect our people, the plant and the wider community, with a number of our measures being identified by WANO as good practices.
With Barakah gradually coming online, how will the introduction of nuclear energy impact the UAE’s national grid?
Barakah is a game changer for the UAE’s energy landscape. Peaceful nuclear energy is almost unique in its ability to produce large quantities of electricity around the clock without generating any carbon emissions. The UAE will no longer be solely reliant on burning natural gas to generate its baseload electricity, which is a significant achievement for the nation.
Once fully operational, Barakah will meet up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs while preventing the release of 21 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually, equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars off the roads each year.
The state-of-the-art technology and infrastructure at the Barakah Plant allows for an estimated 60 years of operations and we only need to stop production to refuel each reactor once every 18 to 24 months. This supports electrification throughout the nation, provides the UAE with a higher level of energy stability and security, and contributes to the decarbonisation of the energy sector.
Renewables and nuclear energy are a powerful combination when working together. Nuclear energy produces a stable amount of clean electricity 24/7 that complements variable, intermittent renewable sources in order to ensure the UAE achieves its sustainability goals while also meeting growing demands for electricity.
The future energy supply of the UAE depends largely on demand from industry, business and homes. Energy planning for the future of the UAE took a decisive turn in 2007, when the government undertook a comprehensive review of the UAE energy sector and options for meeting future demand. Back then, it looked at all the forms of commercially viable technologies to power the future growth of the UAE in a sustainable manner and decided that the future of the electricity sector would predominantly be delivered by peaceful nuclear energy and renewables.
This approach was further detailed in the UAE Energy Strategy 2050. The strategy targets an energy mix of 50% from clean energy sources including nuclear, with 38% from natural gas and 12% from clean coal.
In what other ways will the Barakah plant impact the UAE’s energy landscape and future development?
As an Emirati, I am proud of how the UAE has pioneered and delivered one of the most ambitious energy transition programmes in the region and the world.
The UAE is fast becoming a leader in clean energy, with 79% of the installed solar PV capacity in the GCC and the first nuclear energy plant in the Arab World, diversifying the nation’s energy portfolio.
With the successful startup of Unit 1 and its connection to the UAE energy transmission grid we have just begun to deliver safe, clean, efficient and reliable electricity to the UAE, powering the social and economic growth of the UAE for decades to come. This clean electricity will contribute to the realisation of the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 and the nation’s sustainability and energy security goals, providing a brighter future for many generations to come.
At ENEC, we are proud that the nuclear energy industry in the UAE is already playing a critical role in delivering on the ambitious targets, helping to secure an economically and environmentally sustainable future for the nation.
Read the full interview in the December issue of Nuclear Engineering International