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Emirati experts key to the successful start-up and connection of unit 1 of the Barakah nuclear energy plant

UAE National professionals held key roles in every phase of the construction, testing, start-up and grid synchronization of Unit 1 at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant

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Hend Al Zeyoudi, Licensed Reactor Operator, Nawah Energy Company, monitors the grid synchronization parameters
Hend Al Zeyoudi, Licensed Reactor Operator, Nawah Energy Company, monitors the grid synchronization parameters

Since its inception in 2009, the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program has achieved countless milestones - now including two of its most historic accomplishments to date, the successful start-up and connection to the electricity grid of the first of four nuclear reactors at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant.

With the delivery of the first megawatts of clean electricity to the UAE’s transmission grid, the UAE has become the first Arab nation to develop peaceful nuclear energy, and the 31st internationally, having developed the expertise and infrastructure required to meet the rigorous international standards demanded by the global nuclear energy industry.

This has been achieved through a commitment to adhering to the highest international standards of safety, quality, security, transparency and non-proliferation over the past decade that the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program has been progressing.

These milestones are the latest in a series of steps which began with the safe and quality led process to load fuel assemblies into the Unit 1 reactor in March 2020. Prior to this key step, Nawah Energy Company (Nawah), the operating and maintenance subsidiary for the Barakah plant, took receipt of the Operating License from the UAE’s independent nuclear regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) in February 2020.

These achievements, and the continued success of the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program, are underpinned by the expertise, commitment and dedication of the thousands of UAE Nationals working across ENEC, Nawah, and Barakah One Company, ENEC’s JV subsidiary in charge of financial and commercial interests of the project.  


The crew of nuclear reactor operators from Nawah Energy Company, completes grid synchronisation

Between them, ENEC, Nawah and Barakah One Company have more than 3,000 employees, 60% of whom are talented UAE Nationals who work alongside a diverse team of international experts, as well as counterparts from ENEC’s Prime Contractor and Joint Venture Partner, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO).

The primary developer of the UAE Program, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), was founded in 2009 with a vision to power the future growth and transformation of the UAE into a knowledge-based economy through supporting the decarbonization of the energy sector, delivering clean, safe and efficient electricity, and establishing a new economic and industrial sector in the country.

Just over a decade later, ENEC and its subsidiaries that were formed in 2016 are succeeding on all fronts, to a large degree because of the incredible efforts of Emirati engineers, experts, and professionals from all corners of the country.

Amongst these Emirati professionals are more than 120 UAE National engineers, who have contributed to the successful construction of Unit 1. And as of 2019, 30 UAE National Reactor Operators and Senior Reactor Operators have been certified by FANR, alongside 28 UAE National qualified Local Operators, who are now focused on the safe operation and maintenance of the plant.

Together they share knowledge and expertise with their international counterparts and ensure that the Barakah plant is operated and maintained to the highest standards of nuclear quality, safety and security, and remains as a new benchmark for newcomer nuclear energy countries.

Since its establishment, ENEC has directly supported and contributed to the development of a highly skilled and qualified local workforce. ENEC and Nawah together offer a wide range of scholarship-based training and educational opportunities for UAE Nationals, including undergraduate, postgraduate, and vocational courses under the umbrella of the companies’ Energy Pioneers Program.

So far, 380 students have graduated as Energy Pioneers, and 125 students are in the pipeline to graduate in the near future. The program now includes a number of specialized tracks, such as the Nuclear Fuel Design Energy Pioneer Training Program, and continues to accept applicants from across the UAE.

The recent successful start-up of Barakah Unit 1, and its delivery of clean electricity to the UAE grid has meant a great deal to all the Energy Pioneers graduates, in particular those involved with the day-to-day operation of Unit 1 including three Emirati Senior Reactor Operators (SRO), Ali Al Nuaimi, Shamsa Ahmed, and Abdulla Al Menhali – all of whom have on numerous occasions expressed their pride in what has been achieved at Barakah.

The importance of the Barakah Plant in being an engine of economic, social and academic growth of the UAE was apparent to the skilled young professionals from the very beginning; it was the key reason they chose to join ENEC and Nawah, and applied to train to become SROs and ROs through the Energy Pioneers Program.

Ali Al Nuaimi, Senior Reactor Operator at Nawah, said: “The Energy Pioneers Program gave me the opportunity to contribute to one of the UAE’s most historic national endeavours, the development of Barakah, the Arab World’s first peaceful nuclear energy plant. I am immensely proud to celebrate Unit 1’s delivery of clean electricity to the UAE grid, and to be working at the Barakah Plant. Completing the intensive training and skill development required to become an SRO, leads me to feel even more motivated to be able to wake up every morning and know that my efforts are contributing to the delivery of safe, clean and efficient energy to the UAE’s electricity grid – electricity that powers homes, business and industries across the country for decades to come.”

Shamsa Ahmed, also a Senior Reactor Operator at Nawah, said: “Nuclear energy is new to the UAE, and yet in just over a decade we have achieved a tremendous amount, culminating in the successful start-up and grid connection of Unit 1. It is truly a historic moment for all of us, and testament to what can be achieved with the guidance of our visionary leadership, strategic planning, and hard work. Our leaders have ensured that women play a central role in the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program and I am proud to be part of the 20% of employees that are female. This is a leading percentage in our industry and I am excited to see more women join the Program and help drive its development in the future.”

Shamsa, along with two of her female colleagues, are the first females in the country to be certified by FANR as Senior Reactor Operators. Their success is emblematic of the UAE Program’s internationally-leading inclusiveness, with women making up a fifth of the workforce.

Abdulla Al Menhali, another talented Senior Reactor Operator working at Nawah, said: “When in meetings with international counterparts or participating in various industry events, I am continually reminded of what an honor it is to be a part of the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program. I am grateful for the many opportunities our Nation’s leadership has offered us, and I feel privileged to have the chance to contribute to such an important part of the UAE’s future. Peaceful nuclear energy will provide an incredible amount of baseload electricity, while at the same time decarbonizing the energy sector – by producing no emissions – and supporting sustainable development and electrification across the country. When I think back to what has been achieved over the past ten years, it inspires me to do more and work harder each and every day as the UAE turns its visions into reality.”

While they would be too humble to admit it, Ali, Shamsa and Abdulla are superb examples of a new generation of Emirati nuclear energy professionals who, through their work, innovation and excellence are demonstrating to the world how successful UAE Nationals have been at succeeding within even the most sophisticated and challenging of industries.

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