Improvements in tech will safeguard UAE’s nuclear future officials claim

Dr Mohamed Chookah and Barbara Thomas talk during the Middle East Nuclear Power Briefing in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National
Dr Mohamed Chookah and Lady Barbara Judge talk during the Middle East Nuclear Power Briefing in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National

Originally published at

ABU DHABI // While countries such as Germany and Italy have chosen to pull back from nuclear power, the Middle East is taking the lead in adopting nuclear energy as one of its future sources of power.

But officials said on Tuesday that advancements in new technologies were needed to build public confidence in the industry and its safety.

“Safety is our overriding priority at the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, in every aspect of our life,” said Dr Mohamed Chookah, Enec’s director of regulatory affairs and health and safety.

“Coming from the oil and gas sector to nuclear was a big transformation. Safety is half the picture in oil and gas while in nuclear, you have to understand the full picture,” he said.

“I am sure our new generation will do even better than us and excel in safety.”

According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 437 reactors in operation at the moment. Since the nuclear accident in Fukushima in 2011, Japan closed all its 50-plus reactors with only Sendai, in August this year, back online.

“There are more reactors under construction and several others planned,” said Lady Barbara Judge, former head of the UK Atomic Energy Agency and member of the international advisory board for the development of nuclear energy in the UAE.

“But the most interesting action is what is happening right here in the Middle East. The land of oil is where a lot of reactor action is starting.

“Notwithstanding the fact that there was much oil here, Abu Dhabi decided it would be a regional energy hub.”

She commended the UAE’s nuclear programme, adding that more than 20 per cent of the industry’s personnel was made up of women.

“It is the most enlightened programme in the world,” she said. “The interesting thing to me is that, not just Abu Dhabi started, but Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and maybe Iran are starting and the action started right here in Abu Dhabi.”

With 7,500 dedicated safety training sessions since the beginning of the programme attended by 250,000 people, Dr Chookah said Enec would need about 2,500 highly trained personnel, including operators, engineers, technicians and support staff to take responsibility for the safe operation of the Barakah plant by 2020.

“Developing the next generation of nuclear energy leaders is one of our most important priorities,” he said.

“Emiratis are leading with the support of expatriates and, in a few years, they will be able to lead and run it safely.

“We also have more than 1,400 employees today and about 400 students enrolled in the best academic and professional institutions to prepare to operate our plants under the highest standards of safety and quality.”

But more needed to be done to convince the public.

“The International Atomic Energy Agency tells us that nuclear will comprise about 21 per cent of the power mix by about 2040,” said Nobuo Tanaka, president of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and former IAEA executive director.

“But there are advanced technologies that can give a lot more confidence to the public and the future of the international framework for safety should accommodate these new technologies.

“Energy security must be considered as a formal focus of the future to solve long-term issues.”