The United Arab Emirates has issued an operating license for a reactor, developed by foreign experts, at its Barakah nuclear power plant, the first in the Arab world.
The Barakah plant, located on the Persian Gulf coast west of the capital, had been due to come online in late 2017 but faced a number of delays that officials attributed to safety and regulatory requirements.
The national nuclear regulator has now given the green light to the first of four reactors at the plant, Hamad al-Kaabi, the UAE representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a press conference.
Emirati officials said in January that the plant would start operating within a few months. No new date was given on Monday but Kaabi indicated it would happen soon.
“The full operation of Barakah plant in the near future will contribute to the UAE’s efforts for development and sustainability,” he said, adding that the operator would “undertake a period of commissioning to prepare for commercial operation.”
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan also tweeted that “today marks a new chapter in our journey for the development of peaceful nuclear energy with the issuing of the operating license for the first Barakah plant.”
“As we prepare for the next 50 years to safeguard our needs, our biggest strength is national talent,” he added.
The UAE plant is being built by a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation at a cost of some $24.4 billion.
Mark Hibbs, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy Program, says the UAE “has to build up a domestic pool of experts in many areas to keep these plants running smoothly and efficiently”, as all of the expertise for developing the facility has been “imported from outside”.
When fully operational, the four reactors have the capacity to generate 5,600 megawatts of electricity, around 25 percent of the nation’s needs. The remaining three reactors are almost ready.
The plant is the Arab world’s first. Saudi Arabia has said it plans to build up to 16 nuclear reactors, but the project has yet to materialize.
In September, Saudi Arabia announced plans to produce and enrich uranium in the future for its nuclear power program set to enter into an operational phase with two atomic reactors.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the kingdom’s energy minister, said that Riyadh intends to diversify its energy mix and go ahead with the full cycle of its nuclear program, including the production and enrichment of uranium for atomic fuel.
“We are proceeding with it cautiously… we are experimenting with two nuclear reactors,” Abdulaziz said at an energy conference in Abu Dhabi.
Companies from the US, China, Russia, South Korea and France are speculated to be involved in preliminary talks about the project estimated to be worth billions of dollars.
Saudi Arabia claims that it wants to tap nuclear technology for peaceful purposes but enrichment of uranium is a sensitive step in the nuclear fuel cycle as it can open up the possibility of military uses of the material.
Concern over Saudi nuclear ambitions has mounted both because of the regime’s dark record of violating human rights, particularly for detention of women’s rights activists and the cruel murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, as well as its brutal war on Yemen.