UAE's First Nuclear Unit Enters Commercial Operation

Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. (ENEC) said Unit 1 of the Barakah nuclear facility has entered commercial operation, nine years after construction of the Arab world’s first nuclear power plant began.

ENEC made the announcement April 6. Unit 1, operated by Nawah Energy Co., has been providing electricity to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since reaching 100% power in December of last year. The plant, which achieved start-up on Aug. 1 of last year and was connected to the grid later that month, is located in the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi.

“The start of commercial operations at the Barakah nuclear energy plant is a historic milestone for the UAE,” said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in a Twitter post. Construction of Unit 1 was completed in 2018.

ENEC in a statement Tuesday said the 1,400-MW unit is now providing “constant, reliable and sustainable electricity around the clock.” ENEC has said the nuclear plant is “leading the decarbonization effort of any industry in the UAE to date.”

Mohamed Ibrahim Al Hammadi, CEO of ENEC, in a statement Tuesday said, “After more than a decade of strategic planning, program development and construction, today we are confidently marking the start of a new chapter in the UAE’s transition to cleaner energy sources. The Barakah Plant uses a proven technology for significantly reducing carbon emissions to tackle climate change, one of the biggest challenges the world has ever faced. Our talented team of UAE Nationals and international experts has worked tirelessly with the support of our Leadership and international partners to reach this pivotal milestone in the UAE Program’s history.”

KEPCO Leads Construction

The Barakah plant is being built by a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO). The completed plant will include four APR-1400 advanced light water reactors. Unit 2 at Barakah has finished the fuel loading process and is going through required testing prior to start-up; the unit is scheduled to come online later this year.

ENEC on Tuesday said construction of units 3 and 4 at the complex is 94% and 89% complete, respectively.

Barakah Unit 1 is the first nuclear power plant to operate in the Arab world. Courtesy: ENEC

The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), the UAE’s equivalent to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has conducted extensive testing of the Barakah facility; the agency on Tuesday said it has overseen 312 independent inspections of the plant to date. ENEC on Tuesday said that FANR’s reviews were done alongside at least 42 assessments and peer reviews by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and World Association of Nuclear Operators.

Overall construction of the Barakah nuclear power plant is pegged at about 95%, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. said Tuesday. Fuel loading is complete for Unit 2, and units 3 and 4 are 94% and 89% complete, respectively. Courtesy: Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp.

ENEC Chairman Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak in a statement said, “The UAE set a clear roadmap with solid principles to ensure this project’s development in accordance with the highest international industry standards of safety and quality with full transparency.

“Our investment in pioneering technologies and the decarbonization of our electricity production not only advances the UAE’s clean energy leadership but also produces tangible socio-economic and environmental benefits. We congratulate all of our partners as we continue to support the prosperity and sustainable growth of our country.”

Socio-Economic Development

Sama Bilbao y León, director general of World Nuclear Association, said, “The UAE’s commitment to a clean energy future that ensures, at the same time, the sustainable socio-economic development of everyone in the country, is one that needs to be replicated by many more countries around the world. Nuclear power will need to be at the heart of this energy transformation if we are to stand a chance of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

ENEC on Tuesday said that Barakah One Co., its subsidiary in charge of the financial and commercial activities of the Barakah plant, has a power purchase agreement with the Emirates Water and Electricity Co. to offtake all the plant’s power generation for the next 60 years.

The Barakah project has faced delays during construction, in part due to the need to train personnel as the UAE builds its nuclear power industry from scratch. Construction on Unit 1 began in 2012, with start-up expected in 2017. Though construction of the first unit was completed in 2018, FANR did not grant an operating license to Nawah Energy Co. until February 2020.

Nawah had initially applied for operating licenses for units 1 and 2 in 2015. The license for Unit 2 was issued last month.

Barakah’s four reactors when complete will have 5.6 GW of total generation capacity, which could supply about one-quarter of the UAE’s total peak electricity demand.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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