UAE: Barakah nuclear plant can withstand a Turkey-Syria magnitude quake, says official

Once fully operational, the plant’s four APR1400 design nuclear reactors will supply up to 25 per cent of the country's electricity needs

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Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Mon 13 Feb 2023, 5:58 PM

Last updated: Tue 14 Feb 2023, 6:45 AM

The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant has been designed to withstand earthquakes, a top official from the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) said during an event in Abu Dhabi.

Last week, deadly earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 left Turkey and Syria in ruins. More than a decade ago, a massive earthquake triggered a powerful tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, sparking a major disaster.

Asked about the safety aspects of the Barakah plant and if it can withstand similar catastrophic Turkey-Syria quakes, Christer Viktorsson, Director-General of FANR, allayed such fears.

“Barakah can withstand. Yes, it can,” he told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference hosted by FANR in Abu Dhabi.

Following the Fukushima accident in March 2011, a number of design enhancements were made to the Barakah plant to improve its safety margins before its construction began.

“We have already evaluated Barakah from a Fukushima point of view. Before we gave the construction license for Unit One in 2012, we evaluated it thoroughly, [and] the aspects that needed to be considered like seismicity, flooding, [and a] tsunami. All these external hazards that can influence a nuclear power plant, we evaluated and they made safety improvements and we have approved those,” Viktorsson said.

The Barakah plant is located in Al Dhafra, some 53 km west-southwest of the city of Ruwais. The plant’s four APR1400 design nuclear reactors will supply up to 25 per cent of the UAE’s electricity needs once fully operational.

While Units 1 and 2 are commercially operational, Unit 3 has been connected to the national grid and is expected to start commercial operations in coming months. Currently, FANR is assessing the operating license application for Unit 4. And if all regulatory norms are met, the license is expected to be issued by the end of the year.

“We have started the review of the license application for Unit 4. So, hopefully, if everything is going well, we hope to conclude it by the end of the year,” Viktorsson pointed out.

Once the operating license has been issued, the next steps are the loading of fuel, reactor startup, grid connection, power ascension testing and commercial operations. The entire process from issuance of operating license to beginning of commercial operations takes a year or more.

UAE a role model

The four-day international conference on ‘Effective Nuclear and Radiation Regulatory Systems’ has brought more than 580 participants from 95 member states and four international organisations. Regulatory experience and agility to respond to new and emerging challenges in a changing environment as well as regulatory approaches to innovation and technologies, are at the core of the discussions at the conference.

Lydie Evrard, IAEA Deputy Director General and head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, noted: “Collectively sharing regulatory experiences and expertise, disseminating knowledge as well as sharing best practices, lessons learned, and novel solutions will help regulators and the international community contribute to worldwide efforts to enhance nuclear safety and security.”

This is the first time that the conference is being held in Abu Dhabi. The first Conference was held in 2006 in Moscow, followed by Cape Town (2009), Ottawa (2013) and Vienna (2016) and Hague (2019).

Ambassador Hamad Al Kaabi, the Permanent Representative of the UAE to the IAEA, said that the support offered by the IAEA since the inception of the UAE nuclear energy programme in 2008 has been “instrumental” in developing regulations, policies and standards, hence positioning the UAE as a “role model for nuclear newcomer countries.”

“Given the likely impacts of issues on the nuclear industry such as cyber security, introduction of artificial intelligence, the small modular reactors and nuclear fusion, these challenges require us to be prepared and foresee the future to ensure that our regulatory infrastructure is both efficient and effective and able to address these trends. The development of the UAE's robust nuclear regulatory infrastructure was the result of our long and strong cooperation with national and international partners, and in particular, our close cooperation with the IAEA,” Al Kaabi added.

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