The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant. Source of the photo:

On August 1st, 2020 the UAE announced that started operations in the first of four reactors at the Barakah nuclear power station. This nuclear plant is the first in the Arab world.

The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant is located in the Al Dhafra of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi on the Arabian Gulf. The Plant’s four APR1400 design nuclear reactors will supply up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs once fully operational.

The construction of the plant started in July 2012, following the receipt of the Construction License from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) and a No Objection Certificate from Abu Dhabi’s environmental regulator, the Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi (EAD).

The plant is an important part of the UAE’s efforts to diversify its energy sources and will provide clean and efficient energy to homes, businesses, and government facilities while reducing the nation’s carbon footprint.

According to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), when fully operational, the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant is expected to save the UAE up to 21 million tons of carbon emissions every year, equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars from the roads.

Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), South Korea’s single largest public power electric utility, was awarded the Prime Contract in 2009 to design, build, and help operate the UAE nuclear energy plant.

The $20 billion contracts also cover extensive training, human resource development, and education programs as the UAE build the capacity to staff a thriving nuclear energy industry.

That signals that Unit 1, which had fuel rods loaded in March, has achieved “criticality” – a sustained fission chain reaction.

ENEC said: “The start-up of Unit 1 marks the first time that the reactor safely produces heat, which is used to create steam, turning a turbine to generate electricity”.

Barakah, which was planned to open in 2017, has been dogged by delays and is billions of dollars over budget. It has also raised myriad concerns among nuclear energy veterans who are concerned about the potential risks Barakah could visit upon the Arabian Peninsula, from an environmental catastrophe to a nuclear arms race.

Paul DORFMAN, an honorary senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University College London and founder and chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, has criticized the Barakah reactors’ “cheap and cheerful” design that he says cuts corners on safety.

The reactors are missing the Generation III Defence-In-Depth reinforcements to the containment building to shield against a radiological release resulting from a missile or fighter jet attack, DORFMAN said in a report where presented the key safety features Barakah’s reactors lack.

The vulnerability of critical infrastructure in the Arabian Peninsula was further laid bare in 2019 after Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by 18 drones and seven cruise missiles, an assault that temporarily knocked out more than half of the kingdom’s oil production.

DORFMAN told to Al Jazeera: “Given Barakah has started up, because of all the well-rehearsed nuclear safety and security problems, it may be critically important that the Gulf states collectively evolve a Nuclear Accident Liability Convention, so that if anything does go wrong, victim states may have some sort of redress”.

The UAE has important oil and gas reserves, but it has made huge investments in developing alternative energy sources, including nuclear and solar.

When the UAE first announced Barakah in 2009, nuclear power was cheaper than solar and wind. But by 2012, when the Emirates started to build the reactors, solar and wind costs had plummeted dramatically.

Between 2009 and 2019, utility-scale average solar photovoltaic costs fell 89 % and wind fell 43 %, while nuclear jumped 26 %, according to an analysis by the financial advisory and asset manager LAZARD.

There are also concerns about the potential for Barakah to foment nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, a region rife with geopolitical fault lines and well-documented history of nuclear secrecy.

In 2019, Qatar called the Barakah plant a “flagrant threat to regional peace and environment”. Qatar is a bitter regional rival of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The UAE has distanced itself from the region’s bad behavior by agreeing not to enrich its own uranium or reprocess spent fuel. It has also signed up to the UN’s nuclear watchdog’s Additional Protocol, significantly enhancing inspection capabilities, and secured a 123 Agreement with the US that allows bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation.

This article was edited using the data from the,,,, and, and

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