The United Arab Emirates is making history with the launch of its Barakah nuclear energy facility on Saturday, the first such project in the oil-rich Arab world.
Unit 1 of the nuclear plant, located in Abu Dhabi's Al Dhafrah region, began generating heat on Saturday, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation announced in a statement.
Unit 1 will comprise the first of the project's four reactors. The group said the construction of Unit 2 reactor has been completed recently, while the other two are still being constructed -- although the original schedule was for the plant to become fully functional by 2017. The facility was set to open that year, but was billions of dollars over-budget and hounded by setbacks, Al-Jazeera said.
Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, which is building and operating the nuclear facility with Korea Electric Power Corporation, disclosed in a media statement that its subsidiary Nawah Energy Company has successfully fired up Unit 1 of the Barakah plant.
During the process, the reactor will be synchronized with the power grid in order for the first flow of electricity to be generated. The UAE has sizeable oil and gas stockpiles, but with a 10 million population, the Gulf emirate embarked on major investments to develop clean alternatives, including solar power.
The UAE began the process of loading fuel rods into the nuclear reactor at Barakah in February, after regulators gave the go-signal for the first of the plant's four reactors, setting the stage for commercial operations that will be vital for the region's power needs.
Since it was granted an operating license by the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation in February, and the completion of the plant's fuel assembly loading in March, Nawah has been making huge progress through a trial program, before the completion of the unit's start-up.
Meanwhile, nuclear energy veterans have raised worries about the potential dangers associated with the nuclear facility. In 2019, Paul Dorfman, an honorary senior research fellow at the University College London Energy Institute, penned a report that disclosed Barakah's reactors lack safety systems that are crucial in newly-constructed nuclear plants. Dorfman is also the founder and chairperson of the Nuclear Consulting Group.
The nuclear plant is a landmark project, a regional first -- Saudi Arabia, the leading oil exporter in the world, has stated that it plans to construct up to 16 nuclear power plants. Mohamed Ibrahim Al Hammadi, the conglomerate's top executive, said the nuclear facility's unveiling was "a truly historic moment for UAE."