At first glance, the long hallway seems abandoned. But behind glass walls, in soundproof offices, engineers and physicists are putting the final touches to the Arab world’s first nuclear programme.
At the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) in Abu Dhabi, dozens of employees are reviewing the 15,000-page application for the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, scheduled to launch next year.
Located just across the Gulf from Iran, which is home to a controversial nuclear programme of its own, the Barakah plant will make the UAE the first Gulf state to have a peaceful nuclear energy programme.
By 2020, the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme will be in full gear, with four nuclear reactors providing nearly 25 per cent of the UAE’s electricity needs, according to the state-run Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC).
The first reactor was initially set to start generating power in 2017, but ENEC recently announced its inauguration would be delayed until 2018 for technical reasons.
“We received the application for reactor one in March 2015 and since then we have been studying it,” said Christer Viktorsson, director-general at the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation which oversees regulation and licensing for the UAE’s nuclear programme.
Viktorsson says the federal authority has sent ENEC more than 1,000 questions seeking documented answers since 2015 — and the licensing process is not yet over.
“It’s a massive application,” he said. “There are a few areas where we still have questions.”
“We have to verify… that they have security plans, like emergency plans, and if an accident happens they can deal with it.”
In the FANR offices, 300km west of the Barakah plant, Emirati and foreign employees are buried in licensing paperwork in a bid to meet next year’s deadline. ENEC in April reported construction of the plant’s four units had been 80 per cent completed, with reactor one at 95 per cent completion.
Operations teams and contingency plans are also in place.