Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant: A Nuclear Future
Supplying electrical energy to the well-populated United Arab Emirates can be problematic for the environment. The country is hopeful that a new nuclear energy plant will provide a cleaner source of fuel.
In the Western Region of the Abu Dhabi Emirate, the nation’s first nuclear energy plant is nearing its completion.
The construction of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant is taking place on the Arabian Gulf, approximately 53km west-southwest of Ruwais.
The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) is building the plant with a consortium led by the Korean Electric Power Company (Kepco).
The site will host four operational nuclear reactors by 2020. These reactors will supply up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity. The project demonstrates the UAE’s efforts to diversify energy sources, and the plant has an important role in providing clean, efficient energy to homes, businesses and government facilities. The plant will not emit greenhouse gasses, and will save the UAE up to 12 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year.
Mohamed Al Hammadi, CEO of ENEC, explained the need for sustainable, clean nuclear energy. He said:
“In order to select the best energy technologies to power growth, in 2007 the UAE conducted an extensive study into the country’s growing energy demand and electricity generation capacity. The study found that existing and planned electricity supply would not meet future demand, and that by 2020, peak energy demand will grow to more than 40,000 MW—a rate of 9% per year, which is three times the global average. In 2008, the year before we announced our peaceful nuclear energy program, the UAE’s electrical load was 15.5 GW, supplied almost exclusively by natural gas (98%). After reviewing multiple energy technologies, it was concluded that nuclear energy was the right choice for the UAE because it is a safe, clean, and proven technology; is commercially viable; and delivers significant volumes of baseload electricity with nearly zero carbon emissions”
In July 2010, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) approved two licenses for preliminary work to begin at Barakah. The Site Preparation License ‘allowed ENEC to start the installation of site infrastructure not directly related to the nuclear reactors, such as roads, telecommunications networks and site administration buildings.’
Meanwhile, the Limited Construction License authorized the manufacture and assembly of select components, including, but not limited to, reactor pressure vessels, steam generators and coolant pumps.
In July 2012, FANR and the EAD granted the final approval for Barakah to be the site of ENEC’s first nuclear energy plant. ENEC began pouring concrete for Unit 1: a milestone in the development of the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program.
On 27 May 2016, ENEC said that the fuel assemblies had been transported “in adherence to the highest standards of quality and safety”, in accordance with the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as FANR regulations and the requirement of the Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority.
Fuel experts from ENEC and the plant’s operator, Nawah Energy Company, had to guarantee the structural integrity of each fuel assembly. Recently, the confirmation and independent verification of their fuel quality was granted. The Executive Director for Fuel Procurement and Analysis said:
“We are glad to announce that all the received fuel assemblies have cleared quality inspections at site and that they are ready to be used to produce electricity for the Nation, pending regulatory approval,”
“The new fuel assemblies…contain fresh fuel pellets which emit natural amounts of radiation that are well below international safe limits.”
The project is feeding in to the long-term energy strategies of the UAE. CEO Mr. Hammadi said:
“Fossil fuels continue to provide important contributions to our electricity generation capacity, but the UAE has made a strategic decision to diversify its energy portfolio and to increase energy security margins with the introduction of clean energy for the benefit of future generations. Nuclear energy, along with renewables, compose the backbone of the future of electricity in the UAE and together will provide more than 30% of the nation’s energy by 2020 while increasing its energy security and diversifying its energy portfolio. With that in mind, ENEC has been tasked with the mission of delivering safe, clean, efficient, and reliable nuclear energy to the UAE grid by 2017.”
The construction team will continue to build the Barakah Nuclear Plant with a resounding awareness of the local climate. The CEO explained:
“Since the initial design and planning phases, we have put a special emphasis on making the plant compatible with the local climate…We needed to make a number of adaptations to the design. These changes specifically address the higher temperatures, drier air, and high volumes of airborne sand and dust.”
The changes include:
■ Installing larger pumps, heat exchangers, and pipes to increase the water flow rate of the cooling systems to deal with the higher seawater temperatures in the Gulf.
■ Constructing a modified breakwater to ensure that the discharge and intake structures are at an increased distance from each other to avoid recirculation of warmer water.
■ Designing the seawater intake and plant cooling systems to ensure compliance with the Environmental Agency—Abu Dhabi (EAD) standards for changes in Gulf water temperature near the plants.
■ Adding more ventilation and air conditioning to counter the effects of higher temperatures, drier air, and high volumes of airborne sand and dust.
■ Developing a refined intake screen design to help protect local fish populations during operations.
Today, over 1,900 people have been employed by ENEC to bring the plant to its imminent completion. Approximately 600 more people, including operators, engineers, technicians and support staff, will join the workforce by 2020. The employees will work for Nawah: a nuclear operating company that has achieved a standard of excellence. Mr. Hammadi, said:
“In regards to developing technical expertise and human capacity building, the challenge of training a generation of nuclear energy specialists is considerable, but fortunately we are working with highly experienced companies, including the prime contractor, Korea Electric Power Corporation and its subsidiary, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP).”
“KHNP has developed a strong record of training staff and operating nuclear plants around the world. ENEC and Nawah, together with Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi Polytechnic and the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) have developed a unique scholarship initiative to provide UAE nationals with opportunities to be a part of the UAE’s power supply industry.”
“ENEC developed the ‘Energy Pioneers’ program to attract and to develop the country’s most talented science students, engineering graduates, and experienced professionals. Since the Energy Pioneers program started in 2009, nearly 400 young Emiratis have become part of the ENEC scholarship program and have begun their careers in this dynamic new industry. In total, over approximately five years, we have grown into a team of more than 1,200 people, with more than 60% of our ENEC staff composed of talented Emiratis. By 2020, ENEC will need approximately 2,500 employees.”
“We are already contributing to the growth of the high-tech industry by investing heavily in and employing more than 1400 local companies, with contracts worth over $3.2bn.”
As well as a positive effect on jobs, a study conducted on 750 interviewees found that a large number of respondents believed the Barakah nuclear power plant was important for the UAE. The number of those who believe that nuclear energy was essential to meeting the country’s power needs also rose, from 63 per cent in the 2013 survey to 69 per cent in the latest poll. Mohamed Al Hammadi said:
“It is encouraging to know that so many residents are not only aware of the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy but support the work we are doing at Barakah.”
In order to continue making progress, the nuclear plant has engaged with a selection of suppliers for each stage of the fuel cycle. The company estimates the contracts are worth around $3 billion, and will enable the Barakah plant to generate up to 450 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity over a 15-year period from 2017.
The contracts involve Canada-based Uranium One, UK-based Rio Tinto, France’s Areva and Russia’s Techsnabexport (Tenex) for supply of uranium concentrates. For conversion services, contracts utilise the USA’s Converdyn, Tenex and Areva. Enrichment will be by Europe-based Urenco, Areva and Tenex. Areva said that its contract involved supply of enriched uranium worth some $500 million. Tenex have claimed to have secured half of the supply. ENEC “expects to return to the market at various times to take advantage of favourable market conditions and to strengthen its security of supply position.”
Enriched uranium will be supplied to Kepco Nuclear Fuels.
Although these contracts reach international bases, working with local contracts has also been hugely important for the ENEC. Mr. Hammadi said:
“ENEC works with local companies to upgrade their systems to become ASME nuclear component-certified companies, the key certification required to become nuclear-approved suppliers. ENEC and KEPCO also hold regular supplier forums to ensure local companies are informed about upcoming opportunities and are educated on the steps required to register for the tendering process for Barakah projects. We have worked with companies such as Emirates Steel, National Cement, Dubai Cable Co. (DUCAB), National Marine Dredging Co., Western Bainoona Group, and Hilalco to bring them into the nuclear-certified category, and to provide products and services to our program and the world.”
“Recently, we achieved a key milestone by awarding more than $2.5 billion in local contracts in just the first few years of construction at Barakah. With 40 years of operations ahead for each of our units, there will be many more opportunities for UAE businesses that are committed to instilling nuclear safety and quality standards across their organization. Through its work with local companies, ENEC is not only supporting existing businesses in the UAE but also contributing to the development of the local economy while stimulating the growth of its local industry.”
With many contracts in place, and with the near completion of reactor Units 1 and 2, Mr. Hammadi is looking forward to the future. The CEO said:
“I am proud that we have met every major milestone since construction began in Barakah. We have managed to achieve this by creating a multinational and multidisciplinary team that focuses on the changing priorities and goals of the program.”
“Today, we are focused on the delivery of three strategic goals. They are:
■ Guarantee project delivery, which involves the safe and quality-focused delivery of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant.
■ Ensure operational readiness, which focuses on preparing for operations.
■ Support and develop capability, which includes promoting a strong performance management culture based on continuous improvement.”
“Our team is dedicated to the delivery of the UAE peaceful nuclear energy program in strict adherence to the highest safety and quality standards, and that has been apparent throughout this entire process. We benefit from exceptional levels of international nuclear industry collaboration, along with the most qualified and talented Emirati experts, and this has been an important addition to our construction expertise. Moving forward, we remain focused on operational transparency and excellence, with the goal of safely delivering and operating four nuclear energy units by 2020.”
With confidence from the local community, a clear set of targets in sight, and major developments already constructed, the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant is set to reform energy consumption in the UAE.