Nuclear power is a key resource that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is using to diversify away from oil and gas. The UAE government has taken deliberate steps, in close consultation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, to develop a civil nuclear power program. The UAE is building its first four nuclear reactors at a site called Barakah and is expecting to produce up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity requirements while preventing the release of up to 21 million tons of carbon emissions every year.
By 2030, 12% of Dubai’s electricity supply capacity is expected to be nuclear. In December 2009, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) led a consortium to design the Barakah plant, which includes four APR-1400 reactors to be built at the Barakah site with a total of 5.6 GW.
- In July 2018, the UAE Department of Energy issued a license for the four units at Barakah.
- In February 2020, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) issued an operating license for unit 1 of Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant. The fuel loading commenced shortly afterwards and was completed by the beginning of March 2020.
- In May 2020, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Company (ENEC) stated the coronavirus pandemic had not delayed its schedule for unit 1, which was expected to reach criticality in a couple of months.
- As of May 2020, the testing had begun on units 2, 3 and 4, which were more than 95%, 92%, and 84% complete respectively.
UAE Nuclear Industry Structure
- Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR): FANR was established in 2009 as the regulatory body for the nuclear sector in the UAE in accordance with Federal Law by Decree No 6 of 2009, Concerning the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, which was issued by H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE.
- Emirates Nuclear Energy Company (ENEC): ENEC was established in 2009, and is responsible for the design, construction, and ownership of the UAE’s first nuclear energy plant. Its mission includes coordination with the educational sector in the UAE to develop the UAE human resource capacity needed to operate the nuclear energy program.
ENEC also serves as an investment arm of the Government of Abu Dhabi, making strategic investments in the nuclear sector, both domestically and internationally. In October 2016, ENEC and Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) signed a joint venture agreement establishing a long-term partnership, including the set-up of Barakah One PJSC, an independent subsidiary owned by both companies to manage the commercial interests of the Barakah project and secure project financing from institutional and commercial leaders. The agreement entitles KEPCO to an 18% stake in ENEC’s subsidiary, Nawah.
- Nawah Energy Company (Nawah): Nawah was formally established as a subsidiary of ENEC in 2016. It was established by joint venture partners ENEC and KEPCO to operate and maintain the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant. Nawah is a multinational, multicultural, and Emirati-led company.
The United States and the UAE signed a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2009, known as a “123 Agreement,” after Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act. There will continue to be opportunities as the UAE ramps up operations and builds additional plants. The main obstacle is heavy foreign competition.