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The Nuclear Power Champ of UAE

The UAE is warming up to the GCC’s first ever nuclear power plant scheduled to commence operations between the end of 2019 and early 2020. Mohamed Al Hammadi is the man who has hoisted the project through several record-breaking milestones.

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Emirates Nuclear Energy corporation, ENEC, HE Mohamed Al Hammadi, Nuclear project, Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant

Back in 2008, Mohamed Al Hammadi was working diligently in a classroom at the offices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), learning how to develop nuclear technology and infrastructure for the UAE.

Fast-forward to the present day, less than a decade later, and the GCC country is now home to the largest single-site, under-construction nuclear project in the world. Al Hammadi is now CEO of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), the developer behind Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant.

“[The project] started in 2008, with a clear mandate to develop a nuclear power plant in the country. Today, it is a great achievement that we are very proud of,” Al Hammadi says.

As CEO, Al Hammadi’s responsibilities include directing those activities required to facilitate the deployment of nuclear energy plants in the UAE, incorporating the development of plans for a peaceful nuclear energy program, and the development of non-regulatory infrastructure.

Located some 53km west of the city of Ruwais, in the Al Dhafra Region of Abu Dhabi, Barakah boasts four massive dome containment units, each of which houses a Generation III+ APR1400 nuclear reactor. With each reactor capable of generating as much as 1,400MW, the facility will be able to produce up to 5,600MW of energy once fully operational. ENEC expects all four reactors to come online in 2020.

This output, says Al Hammadi, will meet approximately one quarter of the UAE’s electricity needs, and will supplement other energy sources, making for what he calls a “basket of energies”.

Not only is the project massive in terms of expenditure, currently at $24.4bn, 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.

Al Hammadi 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 according to its 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.”

The nuclear power plant, which will be operated by Nawah Energy Company, is scheduled to start operations between the end of 2019 and early 2020 with the opening of its first nuclear reactor.

The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), which is the nuclear regulatory body, is now reviewing the operating license application made by the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation on behalf of Nawah Energy Company to operate Units 1 and 2 of the plant.

In July, ENEC successfully completed the cold hydrostatic testing (CHT) at Unit 2 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant located in the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi.

The completion of the milestone, which concluded approximately 12 months after the same tests were successfully completed on Unit 1, demonstrated a commitment to achieving the highest international quality and safety standards, across the four units of the Barakah Plant, according to ENEC.

The CHT verifies that welds, joints, pipes and components of the reactor coolant system and associated high-pressure systems are in line with the regulations of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR).

The testing, which is a crucial step in preparing the Unit 2 for nuclear operation, was preceded by the integrated flushing of the Unit’s Nuclear Steam Supply Systems (NSSS).

Remarking that the country’s population is witnessing double-digit growth, Al Hammadi stresses that electricity demand will only continue to rise, necessitating a diversification of the UAE’s energy sources.

“There’s a plan to create a dynamic, flexible basket of energies. Nuclear will play a major role in that equation. We’ll still need [natural] gas; we’ll still need renewables. We’ll need all sources of energy because the country continues to grow,” he explains.

“The good thing is that it is a clean, safe, and reliable energy source, and there is no question about that. There are no CO2 emissions. Once all four units are operational, [the UAE] can avoid around 21 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year,” adds Al Hammadi.

Unlike most sources of renewables, which are constantly subject to the whims of sunshine, wind or tides, nuclear energy provides consistent output. Each reactor at Barakah is designed to run uninterrupted on an 18-month fuel cycle, making the facility an excellent source of base-load electricity.

The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant will provide 25 percent of the UAE’s electricity needs when the facility becomes fully operational.

Noting that each of the reactors has an operational lifespan of 60 years, Al Hammadi reiterates his point about the UAE’s energy basket. “Looking at it from an energy-basket point of view, they’re all complementary. Solar gives you good power at peak times; nuclear gives you base load; and natural gas gives you flexibility, because you can switch it on and off. It’s a beautiful basket of energies for the UAE,” he says.

Established in 2009, the same year that ENEC was formed and the prime contract – valued at $20bn (AED73.5bn) – was awarded to Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO), FANR is the regulatory body responsible for ensuring that the plant’s design, construction, operation, and eventual decommissioning adhere to international standards of safety and quality.

Successfully completing FANR requirements, such as CHT, is treated as a huge milestone by ENEC, owing to the stringency of the regulator’s standards and policies, and the exhaustiveness of the processes involved in securing approvals and licences.

As the nuclear power plant prepares to commence operations this year, a huge task awaits Al Hammadi, but most challenging are the high expectations from the UAE residents and citizens.

But Al Hammadi’s track record leaves no doubt about his reputation as a result oriented person whose competence has left a lasting impression wherever he was worked.

Prior to joining ENEC, Al Hammadi was General Manager of the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) where he led a transformational management process focused on the implementation of best practices and international standards to the authority.

Al Hammadi also served many years in various utility and energy companies including Abu Dhabi Distribution Company and Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company as well as serving on the Board of Directors for Taweelah Asia Power Company.

He worked as Project Engineer with Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), where he played important roles in the completion of various power distribution projects that improved the delivery of electricity to wide areas of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

He is a member of the World Association of Nuclear Operators’ (WANO) Governing Board of its Atlanta Centre. The WANO Atlanta Centre is one of four key regional centres that promote engagement with members throughout the world to ensure alignment.

From 2013 to 14, Al Hammadi was also the Chairman of the Global Agenda Council on Energy Security of the World Economic Forum (WEF), an important advisory committee that identifies and discusses energy security challenges across the world.

He also served in a senior position with Mubadala Development Company, where he was involved with project finance and business development projects involving independent water and power producers.

He is also the lead author of two World Economic Forum energy reports: ‘Lessons Drawn from Reforms in Energy Subsidies’ and ‘The Water-Energy Nexus: Strategic Considerations for Energy Policy-Makers.’

Al-Hammadi earned his BSc in Electrical Engineering and his MSc in Engineering Management from the Florida Institute of Technology.

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