The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) on 1 August announced that its operating and maintenance subsidiary, Nawah Energy Company (Nawah) had successfully started up unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, located in the Al Dhafrah Region of Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  

Construction of the UAE's $22.4 billion Barakah NPP, with four Korean APR-1400 reactors, began in 2012. Barakah 1 was completed in 2018. The UAE's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) issued a 60-year operating licence to Nawah in February 2020. Fuel loading was completed in early  March. Construction of unit 2 was completed earlier in July. Construction of Barakah 3 and 4 are 92% and 85% complete, while the construction of the Barakah Plant as a whole is now 94% complete.

Since receipt of the operating licence and the completion of fuel assembly loading in March 2020, Nawah, the Joint Venture nuclear operations and maintenance subsidiary of Enec and the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), has been progressing through a comprehensive testing programme, prior to   completing the start-up of unit 1.

Enec said “Nawah’s qualified and licensed team of nuclear operators focus on safely controlling the process and controlling the power output of the reactor”. After several weeks and conducting numerous safety tests, unit 1 will be ready to connect to the UAE’s electricity grid. Testing has been undertaken with the continued oversight of   FANR, and follows the World Association of Nuclear Operator’s (WANO) completion of a Pre Start-up Review (PSUR) in January 2020.

Enec CEO Mohamed Ibrahim Al Hammadi  said: “Today is a truly historic moment for the UAE. It is the culmination of more than a decade of vision, strategic planning and robust programme management. Despite the recent global challenges, our team has demonstrated outstanding resilience and commitment to the safe delivery of unit 1. We are now another step closer to achieving our goal of supplying up to a quarter of our Nation’s electricity needs and powering its future growth with safe, reliable, and emissions-free electricity.” He added that  the Barakah NPP “will deliver 25% of the UAE’s electricity with zero carbon emissions while also supporting economic diversification by creating thousands of high-value jobs through the establishment of a sustainable local nuclear energy industry and supply chain”.  

Once the unit is connected to the grid, the nuclear operators will continue with a process of gradually raising the power levels – Power Ascension Testing (PAT). Enec said  the systems of unit 1 will be continuously monitored and tested as the unit proceeds towards full electricity production in line with all regulatory requirements and the highest international standards of safety, quality and security.

The UAE is the first country in the Arab World, and the 33rd country globally, to develop nuclear energy. When fully operational, the plant will produce 5.6GWe  avoiding the release of more than 21 million tons of carbon emissions every year.

The UAE nuclear energy programme began in 2009, since when Enec said it has worked closely with international nuclear bodies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and WANO, “in line with the robust regulatory framework of FANR”. To date, more than 255 inspections have been undertaken by FANR to ensure the plant meets the highest standards of nuclear quality and safety. These national reviews have been supported by more than 40 assessments and peer reviews by the IAEA and WANO.

In 2009, a Kepco-led consortium won the contract to build Barakah in a tender against GE+Hitachi and Areva. It was Korea’s first, and so far only, reactor export contract. Other consortium members  included Samsung, Hyundai, Doosan Heavy Industries and Kepco subsidiaries. Its subsidiary Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co was the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractor. Other subsidiaries were Korea Power Engineering Co for nuclear power plant design and engineering services, Korea Nuclear Fuel for nuclear fuel, Korea Plant Service and Engineering for plant maintenance. Non-Korean companies involved in the team included Westinghouse and Toshiba.

Originally the plant was scheduled to be completed by 2020, with unit 1 coming on line in 2017, but commercial operation was postponed from 2017 to 2018 due to delays in obtaining an operating licence from FANR and then again to enable additional testing. The four units are now expected to be in operation  in 2023.

The reference plant for the APR-1400 PWR is South Korea’s Shin Kori 3&4 units, the design of which is based on the US Combustion Engineering System 80+ which was exported to Korea in the mid-1980s. The reactor design has been modified for local regulations and site-specific characteristics  UAE requirements called for resistance to impact from a large commercial aircraft strike, so containment building walls and auxiliary building walls are thicker than called for in the original design.