UAE | Operation & safety

First steps of a brand-new regulator

9 May 2011

Over the course of 18 months, the United Arab Emirates has awarded a nuclear power contract, and set up a development company and a brand-new nuclear regulator. The regulator has a clear and comprehensive mandate to assess the safety, security and safeguards of the country's new nuclear programme. By Christer Viktorsson

On 27 December 2009, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) announced that it had selected a team led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) to design, build and help operate civilian nuclear power plants for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) nuclear energy programme. The contract comprises four 1,400 MW power reactors. The first of the four reactors is scheduled to begin providing electricity to the grid in 2017 and the three remaining reactors are scheduled to be completed by 2020. ENEC was established at the end of 2009 to act as the owner and operator of the nuclear programme in the UAE.

In order to meet this development, the UAE Government created Federal Law by Decree No 6 of 2009, Regarding the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, which in turn saw the establishment of the country’s nuclear regulatory body, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). The mission of FANR is to regulate the nuclear sector in the UAE and to ensure nuclear safety, security and safeguards.

The intention of this paper is to describe some of the highlights of the development to date of FANR’s legal and regulatory framework.

UAE Policy on Nuclear Power

In April 2008 the UAE Cabinet determined the country’s future energy needs through the development of the white paper entitled the Policy of the United Arab Emirates on the Evaluation and Potential Development of Peaceful Nuclear Energy (available from This White Paper (hereinafter referred to as the Nuclear Policy) concluded that “nuclear power generation would be the most reliable, efficient, safe, commercially competitive and environmentally friendly means of producing electricity [and it would meet future energy needs such as the estimated] national annual peak of electricity of more than 40,000 MWs by 2020”.

The Nuclear Policy outlines the role of nuclear energy in the UAE’s energy programme and the UAE’s commitment for the following:

  • complete operational transparency
  • highest standards of non-proliferation
  • highest standards of safety and security
  • direct connection with the IAEA and conformance to its standards in evaluating and potentially establishing a peaceful nuclear energy programme
  • partnerships with the governments and companies of responsible nations, as well assistance from relevant expert organisations
  • an approach to the peaceful domestic nuclear power programme that best ensures long-term sustainability.

The Nuclear Policy recognised that “the establishment of an independent, vigilant and effective regulatory authority is the cornerstone of any stable, credible, safe and secure nuclear energy programme”, and in September 2009 Federal Law by Decree No 6 of 2009, Regarding the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (hereinafter referred to as the Nuclear Law) led to the establishment of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR).

Prior to the issuance of the Policy, the UAE had acceded to and ratified a number of international instruments in the nuclear area, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, the Convention of the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material as well as a number of safety instruments. In acknowledgement of the commitments made in the Nuclear Policy, the UAE has signed

the Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement, and has become a Contracting Party to the Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.

Responsibilities of FANR

In accordance with the Nuclear Law, FANR has the authority to determine all matters relating to the control and supervision of the nuclear sector in the country, in particular those relating to nuclear safety, nuclear security, radiation protection and safeguards. FANR must implement any obligations under the relevant international treaties, conventions or agreements entered into by the UAE. FANR is responsible for issuing regulations and licences to conduct regulated activities; carrying out safety assessments; and implementing an inspection and control regime. FANR must set up and operate the state system of accounting and control of nuclear material (SSAC), and must establish frameworks for the physical protection and emergency preparedness and response for nuclear facilities and activities (Fig. 2).

Following the promulgation of the Nuclear Law, which also defines FANR’s responsibilities and authorities, the UAE Government appointed the decision-making Board of Management to FANR, which comprises nine Emiratis in prominent positions (Fig. 3). All members are appointed by Minister’s Cabinet Resolution (1/386) of 2009 and must be citizens of the United Arab Emirates. The Board of Management appoints the Director General. The Director General (currently William Travers, former IAEA and USNRC executive) is appointed by the Board of Management and is responsible for managing the Authority’s business and overseeing its financial, administrative and technical affairs under the Board’s control. The Director General manages the implementation of the decisions of the Board.

As of November 2010, approximately 100 people have been hired at FANR and the number is set to rise to 200 by 2012. Although FANR relies on the nuclear expertise of its expatriate staff, FANR places high importance on the development of Emiratis in the nuclear sector. In order to fulfil this commitment, FANR has lent its full support to the strategy for the development and sustainability of human resources that is being carried out in cooperation with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) and Khalifa University (KUSTAR); and is also undertaking separate initiatives to impart nuclear skills and experience to Emirati degree-holders. Training programmes for staff are underway to support the government’s policy objective of national capacity-building and knowledge management. FANR has also started working with external technical support organisations (TSOs) to continue developing its regulatory structure and support the review functions of FANR.

As stipulated in the Nuclear Law and in accordance with the support of the internal integrated management system, FANR has issued a number of regulations based on best international practices and in conformance with IAEA Safety Standards (Fig. 4).

The regulation development process allows the public to make comments on the draft regulations, including site location, nuclear power plant administrative systems, emergency preparedness, transport of radioactive materials, reactor licencing systems, and nuclear facility design, in keeping with the Nuclear Policy’s commitment to transparency.

A licensing strategy for nuclear facilities in line with the Nuclear Law has been defined in consultation with external stakeholders, and a process has been established for assessing an application to construct a nuclear facility that will use the expertise and experience of the vendor country-of-origin. Several well recognised international technical support organisations (TSOs) have been engaged with FANR to support in licensing assessments. In the non-nuclear area a new licensing process has been developed in accordance with the obligations of the Nuclear Law. To date some 100 licences have been issued covering medical and industrial applications of radiation.

FANR has been seeking to project itself internationally with the aim of supporting and enhancing the international standing of the UAE Nuclear Programme with national and international nuclear safety and security bodies. A formal arrangement has been agreed upon between FANR and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of the Republic of Korea (MEST) for the exchange

of technical information and cooperation in the regulation of nuclear safety, radiation protection, nuclear safeguards, physical protection, and export control and related matters. Furthermore, FANR and the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS) have concluded an implementing arrangement for the exchange of technical information and cooperation in nuclear safety and radiation protection matters. Both arrangements were signed in May 2010. A similar arrangement is set to be negotiated with the Korea Institute for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Control (KINAC). FANR has also concluded an information exchange agreement with the

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC), and discussions are ongoing with other foreign regulators.

FANR works closely with the IAEA in all areas of competence related to FANR, such as safety, security, radiation protection and safeguards. FANR’s cooperates with the IAEA in order to align itself with best practices as underpinned in the IAEA standards programme. FANR is set to use and take part in the IAEA’s peer review services and its training tools and materials. FANR will also benefit from tools developed by the IAEA such as its Incident Reporting System (IRS).

In keeping with the need to conduct its regulatory work and administrative support based on clear processes and a structured management system, FANR has developed the key processes and procedures needed to guide its regulatory and administrative functions. The model follows the IAEA Safety Standards No GS-R-3 for Integrated Management Systems (IMS).

The culture of an organisation is fundamental to its success and future strength and development. FANR, as a new organisation, set out to establish its organisational culture at the very beginning of its infrastructure development in line with the Nuclear Policy. The IMS has helped guide FANR through the building of its organisational model. This vision was communicated to all staff by the top management through meetings with all newly hired staff and a dedicated weekly meeting between the management team and staff to discuss progress. An expert facilitator was hired to steer through development with full senior management and staff participation in determining what guidance was needed in line with the IAEA and international standards. FANR supports local customs, the culture and religion to provide necessary input as work progresses, especially in the area of safety culture. This has been done in a phased approach over the past 18 months and will continue into the future.

NPP licensing

The Nuclear Law requires that FANR undertake a thorough review and assessment of technical submissions made by the applicant for a licence for a nuclear power plant in order to assure itself that the available information demonstrates the safety of the NPP; that the information on the applicant’s submissions is accurate and sufficient to confirm compliance with regulatory requirements; and that the technical solutions proposed can be demonstrated to achieve the required level of safety.

FANR cannot delegate its responsibility for review and assessment to another regulatory body. However, given the expectation that any nuclear power plant proposed for operation in the UAE will have already undergone an extensive safety review (or reviews) by one or more regulatory body, it is to FANR's advantage

to use that work when carrying out its independent review and assessment as required by the Nuclear Law. In other words, FANR will review the safety evaluation performed by the regulatory body in the country of origin and use this information to supplement its own review and assessment of the licence application submitted to FANR. Drawing upon the work of other regulatory bodies should enable FANR to focus on the most significant licensing issues associated with the facility. It should also contribute to the efficiency of FANR’s review by reducing, where appropriate, the need for FANR to undertake a review that has already been completed by other regulatory bodies.

The scope and depth of FANR's licensing review will depend upon the extent to which the review of another regulatory body is to be used or whether FANR conducts its own detailed review. For those areas where it is proposed to use a review of another regulatory body, FANR will assess the information supplied by the applicant to determine if it provides an adequate basis for accepting the regulatory body review in line with the abovementioned principles.

In order to facilitate a FANR review following the above approach, FANR will interact closely with the regulatory body of the country of origin and the applicant to develop a good understanding of the regulatory practices and the bases for approval of the reference plant in the country of origin in order to focus the FANR assessment resources in those areas warranting attention to ensure nuclear safety, security, and radiation protection.

Since the selection of the Korean vendor, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), as the prime contractor, strong bilateral relations between KINS and FANR have been established, and senior level meetings to agree upon a framework for technical cooperation and information exchange have stemmed from this cooperation. Technical documents exchanged include the relevant Korean regulations and guides, and safety evaluation reports. Working level meetings between experts are ongoing in the UAE and the Republic of Korea, and secondment of staff to FANR will ensue in 2011.

FANR has started to cooperate with KINAC in areas related to safeguards and the import and export control of nuclear material and related items. In addition to the support of the Korean regulatory bodies, FANR will use the services of technical support organisations when licensing nuclear power plants in the UAE. The TSO will work based on review guidance from FANR, which is in the process of being finalised.

New-build process

The site selection approval process will ensure that the selected site will have characteristics that will provide for a high level of protection for public health and safety and the environment throughout the life of the nuclear installation.

Aspects to be considered include:

  • effects of external events (natural in origin or human induced) occurring in the region or at the particular site
  • characteristics of the site and its environment that could influence the transfer of released radioactive material to individuals or to the environment
  • population density, population distribution and other characteristics of the external zone and how these characteristics may affect risk to individuals or the public and the effects on implementation of emergency measures

FANR has issued ENEC with a Site Selection Licence to allow for the selection of a site for the construction of a nuclear facility.

This licence allowed ENEC to conduct site selection activities but did not approve any site. ENEC has since selected a preferred site in the Western Region of the Abu Dhabi Emirate. The preferred site will be subject to FANR licensing before it can be approved as the site for the first nuclear power plant in the UAE. FANR has issued a Site Preparation Licence for the non-safety related preparation of a preferred site at Braka for the construction of a nuclear facility, and a Limited Construction Licence, which allows for the fabrication of safety related long-lead time items (including the reactor pressure vessel, steam generators, pressurizers and coolant pumps). The licence application for the construction (including siting) of the nuclear power plant in the UAE is expected to be submitted to FANR by the end of 2010 (Fig. 6).

The design of the plant will be adopted from the KEPCO Advanced Pressurised Reactor APR-1400 design with UAE-specific design changes (Fig. 5). Changes to the certified design will warrant original safety analysis to ensure that safety is maintained at a high level. In addition to a comprehensive independent safety verification of departures from the referenced design, a safety assessment of each design change will be conducted by ENEC and provided to FANR for review with the licence application.

The Construction Licence Application, which is yet to be submitted by ENEC, will be based on the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report (PSAR) that has been reviewed by the KINS and has resulted in the issuance of a licence to construct the Shin Kori 3 and 4 units in Korea (Fig. 7). Changes to the Shin-Kori PSAR will be of particular interest of FANR.

The Nuclear Law provides for FANR to exercise regulatory control to review, assess and inspect design, manufacturing and construction activities. It also includes provisions for applicants or licensees to perform comprehensive and systematic safety assessments of the design and construction.

The Nuclear Law also addresses issues of radioactive waste and decommissioning. The Nuclear Law affirms the responsibility of licensees to safely manage and store radioactive waste from its generation until delivery to an entity designated by the UAE Cabinet to manage disposal of such material. The Nuclear Law also establishes a legal regime for the decommissioning of nuclear installations, including the establishment by the UAE Cabinet of a Decommissioning Trust Fund to be financed through fees collected from licensees.

Since the UAE Government established the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) in 2009, the organisation has progressed well. FANR operates under its core values: safety awareness, responsibility, independence, transparency and competency.

The development of the legal and regulatory processes in the UAE and in particular within FANR has been facilitated by strong and coordinated government support. The support from the international community, Korea (the country of origin) and the IAEA has played a role in the fast development process. Much work is yet to be accomplished including maintaining an environment that will continue to attract skilled international, nuclear experts, and talented natives with suitable skills to work for FANR. Finally, the development of a strong culture of safety and security needs to be a priority for all organisations, which have a role in the UAE nuclear programme.

Author Info:

Christer Viktorsson, Deputy Director General of Operations, Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), United Arab Emirates, P.O.Box : 112021, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

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Shin Kori Shin Kori

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