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ENEC CEO Mohamed Al Hammadi talks to Adam Lane about the UAE’s progress towards a nuclear future
The UAE’s Barakah nuclear project is easily the biggest utilities project currently underway in the entire Middle East. Not only is the project massive in terms of expenditure – the reported project costs sit at around US $20 billion – but the scheme is also pioneering new ground as the first civilian nuclear power programme in the region.
With a budget of such scale, and the weight of international attention to bear, the UAE’s task might be seen as at least a little intimidating.
However Mohamed Al Hammadi, CEO of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), says that the programme’s methodical approach and its commitment to its foundation policy on peaceful nuclear energy has meant that the project has so far run exactly to schedule and attracted praise from all quarters.
“We are breaking new ground – it’s a new programme; the first of its kind. But we have a commitment to the main principles laid down in the founding policy document. We are committed to transparency, to safety and to quality. The way we’ve driven this project from the early days was with a clear focus on these key principles.”
This focus has certainly made for a busy few years, as Al Hammadi explains the programme’s development, and what is currently being worked on.
“As with any nuclear power plant in the world, you must do your construction licensing process. That took almost two years. We capitalised on the Korean reference plant – Shin Kori 3&4 – which has already been engineered and worked on in Korea. We adjusted the engineering requirements to account, for example, for the differences in operating temperature, and then we submitted this to our regulators.
“The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) took around 16 to 17 months for the review. We gave them 9,000 pages of documents, and they asked us 1,900 questions. “And when a question came, a team of engineers would need to review it and go back with a final response.
“This comprehensive review by FANR involved a team of international experts that expanded and contracted depending on the part of the application being considered. During the review, the Fukushima incident in Japan drew renewed attention to the nuclear industry, and ENEC were reported to have reviewed aspects of the new plant’s design.
However, Al Hammadi emphasises that ENEC made only a minor proposal for change to the design as a result of a comprehensive study of the event.
“Fukushima was designed in the 1960s and was commissioned in 1971, so it was forty years old. It was in the last year of operation. With the accident, it performed as per the standard, but of course there was a completely unexpected level of disaster – the flooding and tsunami – that cleared all the supporting infrastructure.”
By contrast, the APR 1400 design that is being built at Barakah is a third generation reactor. This means that it has much enhanced safety systems that required no major changes to account for an incident of the magnitude of Fukushima.
“The plant has very high safety as a third generation reactor. It is an excellent design, and we will also see it tested and proven before our plant is up and running as Shin Kori will be commissioned next year. So our plant will have a few years to learn from the Koreans before the first unit comes online.
“The Koreans, over a couple of decades, reached a level of safety and operation of their power plants which is at a very high international standard - the highest standards currently available. It’s on par with the US power plants which are also run to very high standards.”
With the construction licence approved, ENEC has started pouring the safety concrete for the reactor building. Whilst evidently pleased that actual work is underway after all the preparatory effort, Al Hammadi says that the climatic conditions in Abu Dhabi create their own challenges for this stage.
“It’s a hectic process. You need to keep pouring the concrete non-stop, and concrete actually gets hotter as you pour it. So you have to pour it with ice – we actually have an ice factory next to our power plant – so that it is poured at around 7-9 degrees, whilst the temperature outside can be 50 degrees.
“The team has done the fifth pouring already. The biggest so far was 2,000 cubic metres, and it is going really well. We will continue to pour concrete at unit number one, and then pouring at number two will start in one year. We are laser-focusing our team on the first unit, which will be up and running safely in 2017, with the power dispatched to the grid.”
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