UAE nuclear operator committed to safety, says IAEA

06 October 2017

The operator of the United Arab Emirates' first nuclear power plant - the first two units of which are due to start up next year - has shown a commitment to safety, an expert team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded. However, the team identified areas where further improvements in operational safety may be achieved.

Barakah 1 and 2 - May 2017 - 460 (Enec)
Barakah units 1 and 2, pictured in May, are due to start operating next year (Image: Enec)

Four Korean-designed APR-1400 pressurised water reactors are being built at Barakah for the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec). The plant is being built by a consortium led by the Korean Electric Power Company (Kepco). Construction of Barakah 1 began in 2012, with units 2, 3 and 4 following in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Units 1 and 2, now over 96% and 85% complete, are both expected to start up next year. Units 3 and 4 are expected to start up in 2019 and 2020. When complete, the power station will deliver up to a quarter of the UAE's electricity.

Enec established Nawah Energy last year as a joint venture with Kepco to operate and maintain Barakah units 1-4. The company is 82% owned by Enec and 18% owned by Kepco.

A Pre-Operational Safety Review Team (Pre-OSART) team concluded an 18-day mission on 3 October to assess operational safety at the Barakah site in Abu Dhabi.

Pre-OSART missions aim to improve operational safety by objectively assessing safety performance using the IAEA's Safety Standards and proposing recommendations for improvement where appropriate.

The 15-member team reviewed leadership and management for safety; training and qualification; operations; maintenance; technical support; operating experience; radiation protection; chemistry; emergency preparedness and response; accident management; human, technology and organisational interactions; and commissioning.

The team praised Nawah for having a leadership development program that ensures "the multi-cultural, multi-national nature of the staff is maintained and leveraged to build strong teams with a focus on safe operation". It also said the development of the UAE's National Qualification Authority for nuclear positions will enhance and streamline training and qualification of employees.

The IAEA also said Barakah management have established good relations with off-site organisations and other stakeholders. This, it says, will allow for rapid communications and actions should an event occur at the plant.

However, the team made a number of recommendations, including that the plant reinforces the effectiveness of managers by ensuring that their expectations are met at the point of work. It should also improve oversight of maintenance activities performed by contractors in order to ensure equipment safety and reliability.

The team also suggested Nawah ensures "timely development, validation and approval of a comprehensive surveillance program and implementation procedures". The IAEA also said the Barakah plant should "enhance configuration control" over changes made to the plant design by the contractor during construction and commissioning. This will help the plant reflect these changes in operations and maintenance procedures, as well as in training.

The mission team has submitted a draft report of its finding to the plant management. The management, together with the UAE's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), will be able to comment on the report, a final version of which will be submitted to the UAE government within three months.

Team leader Peter Tarren, head of the IAEA's operational safety section, said: "Constructing a large, modern nuclear power plant in a country with no previous nuclear experience requires senior leaders to establish a sustained commitment to nuclear safety and for every level of the organisation to adopt it. The Pre-OSART team has observed that commitment and has been able to offer practical ways in which it can be enhanced."

Follow-up missions are standard components of the OSART program and are typically conducted within two years of the initial mission. The Barakah plant management said it would address the areas identified for improvements by the Pre-OSART team and requested a follow-up OSART mission in about 18 months.

Earlier this year, IAEA safeguards inspectors verified the correctness and completeness of the UAE's initial inventory of nuclear material. As part of the verification process, IAEA safeguards inspectors visited the Barakah plant and other locations in the UAE where small amounts of nuclear material are used. The IAEA confirmed at a follow-up meeting with FANR representatives at the agency's Vienna headquarters that information submitted by the UAE in its initial inventory was complete.

In November 2016, an IAEA International Physical Protection Advisory Service mission concluded the UAE has undertaken "strong and sustainable" nuclear security activities. The mission - carried out at the UAE government's request - reviewed the country's legislative and regulatory framework for nuclear security, looked at the physical protection of nuclear material and nuclear facilities, and the security of radioactive material, associated facilities and associated activities.

An IAEA Emergency Preparedness Review service team carried out a mission in early 2015 to assess the UAE's arrangements and preparations to respond to nuclear and radiological emergencies at the Barakah plant. That team praised the country's emergency preparedness and response arrangements.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News