The United Arab Emirates granted an operating license for the world's first nuclear power plant, a senior official from the nuclear regulator said Monday, paving the way for production to start later this year.
The billionaire Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi, which is being built by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), was originally scheduled to open in 2017. However, the start of its first reactor has been delayed several times.
The UAE, an important OPEC oil producer, wants to diversify its energy mix and add nuclear power to meet the increasing demand for electricity and release more crude oil for export. The country wants nuclear energy to cover 6 percent of its total energy needs by 2050.
The license granted to the plant operator Nawah Energy Company has a term of 60 years, said Hamad al-Kaabi, deputy chairman of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), at a press conference.
Nawah can now prepare for commercial operation as the trials will take several months, Kaabi said.
Upon completion, Barakah will have four reactors with a total capacity of 5,600 megawatts (MW) and all with the same capacity. The UAE has not announced the final total investment in the project.
"Today marks a new chapter in our path to peaceful nuclear energy with the approval of the first (unit) Barakah facility," Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed wrote on his official Twitter account ,
Christer Viktorsson, general manager of FANR, told Reuters that the license would allow Nawah to load the nuclear fuel into the reactor, which would take between 2-3 weeks.
The operator would then have to carry out tests and can start generating electricity by May or June of this year. It would take between 8 and 12 months to reach full production capacity of the first reactor if all tests went well, he added.
Kaabi said that the construction of the second reactor was "95 percent complete" and that FANR had begun reviewing an operating license for it.
Last month, state news agency WAM reported that a readiness assessment conducted by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) Atlanta Center concluded that the first of the four planned reactors was ready for the launch.