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Construction of Arab world's first nuclear reactor delayed

Inside the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) in Abu Dhabi [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 March, 2018

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The arrival of the Arab world's first nuclear reactor has been delayed after the UAE's nuclear regulator declined an application to operate the facility, citing training and expertise concerns.

The opening of the UAE's first nuclear reactor has been delayed due to training issues, according to Reuters.

The Barakah power plant will be the Arab world's first nuclear facility. It is currently the largest nuclear project under construction in the world, with costs expected to top $24 billion.

"The planning has slipped and the schedule is tight... they have told people it will be 2019," a source told Reuters.

Only one of four nuclear reactors has been built so far, which was completed in 2017.

The UAE's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) has declined to give Nawah, the joint venture between Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), a licence to operate the facility.

Nawah has 1,800 staff and recruited employees to operate the reactors, but a second source that spoke to Reuters said these individuals lacked experience and expertise.

The UAE is now reportedly focused on having the four reactors operational by May 2020.

"This country had no nuclear culture before and it now has to develop an entire nuclear economy around the reactor project. That takes time," the first source said.

A FANR spokesman said the regulator had nothing to add regarding the licence application. 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to attend a ceremony for the first reactor on March 26. "The completion ceremony of reactor 1 will be held. However, it is still not ready to start up and it is likely to be delayed a year," a second source said.

The UAE will be the first new country to acquire nuclear power in more than two decades. 

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are preparing to follow suit with their own nuclear reactors. The World Nuclear Association estimates that more than 20 countries worldwide are currently planning to develop nuclear power.

According to a New Arab exclusive on Wednesday, US lawmakers are looking to block a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Saudi Arabia unless Riyadh promises to forego enriching uranium.

Ahead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to Washington, the de facto Saudi ruler warned his country would develop a nuclear weapon if Iran gets one.

Washington is concerned about a potential nuclear arms race in the Middle East. 

The UAE's Barakah plant is expected to provide up to one-quarter of the country's electricity needs - saving 12 million tonnes in carbon emissions every year.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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