The United Arab Emirates on 19 February began loading the first nuclear fuel rods into the reactor at unit 1 of its Barakah nuclear power plant.
The milestone came two days after the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) issued an operating licence for Barakah 1, a 1400MW, APR1400 reactor
"The Nawah Energy Company has commenced loading the first nuclear fuel assemblies as the initial step in the process towards safely and gradually commencing operations and subsequent generation of clean electricity," Nawah said in a statement.
It added that the unit will begin commercial operations after a "series of tests" leading to the start-up process.
During the testing process, the unit will be synchronised with the power grid and the first electricity produced.
"Our teams are trained, certified and ready to safely commence the testing and start-up processes for Unit 1," said Nawah CEO Mark Reddemann.
Nawah, a subsidiary of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec), is responsible for operating and maintaining the Barakah NPP.
The operating licence, issued following a series of thorough assessments and independent reviews of Nawah's operational readiness, authorises Nawah to operate unit 1 for 60 years.
Since FANR received Enec's application in 2015, it has reviewed the 14,000-page application, conducted more than 185 inspections and requested around 2000 additional pieces of information on various matters related to reactor design, safety and other issues to ensure the plant's complete compliance with all regulatory requirements, it said.
FANR director general Christer Viktorsson said the regulator had played an "indispensable role" in regulating the Barakah project since 2009.
"We conducted extensive reviews and robust inspections to ensure [the unit] fulfils our regulatory requirements and thus is ready to operate safely. FANR also prepared for the operations phase which includes putting all arrangements in place to conduct regulatory oversight and necessary inspections to ensure protection of the community and environment when unit 1 starts operating."
FANR's assessments included reviews of the plant's layout and analysis of the site's location as well as technical aspects including the reactor design, cooling systems, security arrangements, emergency preparedness and radioactive waste management.
"We are proud to have demonstrated that Nawah meets rigorous Federal requirements, as well as robust international standards for nuclear safety and quality. We are committed to meeting these standards throughout the start-up process and the lifespan of the plant," said Reddemann, Nawah's CEO.
Construction of Barakah unit 1 began in 2012 and was completed in 2018. Construction of Barakah units 2, 3 and 4 is underway, and the Barakah plant is now more than 93% complete.
Barakah will be the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world and the second to begin operation in the region.
Unit 1 at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant began operation in 2011. Nuclear reactors are also under construction in Egypt and Turkey with Russian assistance, and Saudi Arabia has long-term plans to build up to 16 nuclear units.
Photo: FANR chairman presenting operating licence to ENEC chairman