The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), the regulatory body for the nuclear sector in the UAE, is “proactively developing” future strategies to serve more nuclear reactors, a top official said in Abu Dhabi.

The fourth and final unit of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra is expected to start commercial operations by mid of this year. Once the four-reactor plant is fully operational, it will deliver up to 25 per cent of the UAE’s electricity demands. The first multi-unit operating plant in the Arab world is expected to prevent more than 22 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year, equivalent to removing 4.8 million cars from roads.

During COP28, UAE was among 22 countries committing to tripling global nuclear capacity by 2050 as part of the transition to Net Zero. In November 2023, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), the UAE’s only mandated nuclear energy developer, announced the launch of ENEC Advance, a new programme to evaluate the latest technologies in the advanced, small modular reactor and micro-reactor categories.

New reactors in UAE?

Christer Viktorsson, Director-General of FANR, said that though a decision on new reactors will be taken by the UAE Government, the nuclear regulatory body was preparing for such a situation.

“Whether we will see it here or not, we don’t know, it’s up to the government. We are ensuring that we are ready if the government wants to build more nuclear power plants, big or smaller ones. We prepare ourselves now to ensure that we have the right competence, right systems in place,” Viktorsson told Khaleej Times.

“Given the global momentum to increase the role of nuclear energy and the outcome of the COP28 to combat climate change, where 22 countries, including the UAE, pledged to triple nuclear energy by the year 2050, we are stocktaking such an outcome and proactively developing our future strategy according to the new government direction, taking into considering the changing energy landscape and emerging nuclear technologies such as small modular reactors.”

'Getting prepared'

During COP28, ENEC inked several agreements, including one with Bill Gates’ TerraPower to accelerate nuclear technology implementation; another with GE Hitachi for potential investment and deployment of small modular technology; a potential collaboration deal with China National Nuclear Corporation on new nuclear energy plants in third countries and opportunities for deployment of advanced reactor technologies; and with Westinghouse for potential technical and commercial deployment of the eVinci microreactor in the UAE and abroad.

“A good regulator makes sure that it is able to serve the country when the needs come. So, we have started to explore what needs to be done in case ENEC or other organisations in the UAE come forward with a request to build more reactors. We are analysing what additional staff we need, what type of competencies we will need, because the present staff is essentially designed for Barakah Plant’s Units 1, 2, 3, and 4,” Viktorsson said.

FANR regulates all nuclear activities and licences the use of radioactive sources in the UAE.

“We are getting prepared. We will be able to licence any new technology, but we will cooperate closely with the vendor country, like we did with South Korea when Barakah was contracted. We worked closely with the Korean authorities. We will do the same methodologies for any new technology, whatever country it comes from,” Viktorsson said.

Later this month, world leaders will gather at a Nuclear Energy Summit in Brussels to highlight the role of nuclear energy in addressing the global challenges to reduce the use of fossil fuels, enhance energy security and boost economic development.

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