Interview: Mohamed Al Hammadi
What significance does the UAE’s first civil nuclear programme hold for society at large?
MOHAMED AL HAMMADI: Peaceful nuclear energy will bring many benefits beyond providing the nation with safe, clean and reliable energy. These benefits will include a reduction in carbon emissions, the creation of high-value job opportunities, support for the nation’s energy diversification strategy and the emergence of a new sophisticated industrial sector to support the operations at the Barakah plant. Since our establishment in 2009, ENEC has continued to grow and develop from a small energy start-up into a significant nuclear corporation, with around 1900 employees working across ENEC, Nawah Energy Company and Barakah One Company, with a total Emiratisation rate of about 60%.
Additionally, 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. 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.
How would you respond to the critics of nuclear energy that have emerged since Fukushima?
AL HAMMADI: The incident at Fukushima in Japan led to questions about the independence of the country’s nuclear regulator and resulted in a reform as part of the global lessons learned from the event. The UAE government established a completely independent regulator from the beginning of the project. Our new programme benefits from the diverse experiences of global nuclear operators with a combined global operating experience totalling centuries.
Our multinational experts and advisory boards contribute to an independent and well-functioning programme in the UAE. ENEC conducted a comprehensive nine-month safety design review, which was submitted to FANR in December 2011 and reviewed as part of the construction licence application. Our review showed a high level of plant robustness against natural hazards or loss of electrical power to the site, and for the management of severe accidents. We are also pleased that several years back, Barakah obtained the endorsement of a specifically focused International Atomic Energy Agency-led Site and External Events Design Review Mission, after this mission was invited by the government of the UAE to visit our site.
How does peaceful nuclear energy fit into the UAE’s long-term energy generation strategy?
AL HAMMADI: Energy demand in the UAE is growing at an annual rate of about 4-6%, which is three times the global average. Developing the country’s electricity generation capacity so that it becomes more diverse, and therefore more reliable, is critical to the future of the nation. Following a wide-ranging study, nuclear energy emerged as the right choice for the UAE because it is a safe, clean and proven technology, it is commercially viable, and delivers significant volumes of base-load electricity with nearly zero carbon emissions.
When the four reactors at Barakah are complete, the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme will provide approximately 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs. As part of the UAE Energy Plan 2050, electricity generated from nuclear energy will play an important role in the energy mix, demonstrating the government’s commitment to this nearly zero-carbon energy source.
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