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UAE's Barakah-1 nuclear reactor will reach criticality 'very soon': official

Highlights

Construction remains on schedule

No supply chain challenges seen

Barakah plant is 93% complete

Washington — The recently constructed 1,400-MW Barakah-1 nuclear reactor in the UAE will reach criticality "very soon, in a couple weeks or a month or so from now," Mohamed Al Hammadi, CEO of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp., said Wednesday.

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The coronavirus pandemic has "not derailed us from our plans," Hammadi said at a webcast event held by the Atlantic Council.

Fuel loading started February 19 and was completed March 3, following a February 17 approval of the operating license for the unit for 60 years by the UAE's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation. Nawah Energy Co. is the plant operator.

Following the licensing from the nuclear regulator, "we are in the advanced stages of starting Unit 1" and "over 600 people are working on the project to meet the timeline," Hammadi said. "Testing has started at units 2, 3 and 4," he added. The nuclear plant will meet 25% of UAE's electricity needs, he said.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, "we stopped all non-essential work at Barakah," Hammadi said. "Priority number one is to keep people safe and keep coronavirus out of Barakah. We learned from the Koreans. We don't have a single positive case at the construction site."

Barakah-1 is an APR1400 supplied by Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power.

"Korea as a nation took this crisis head on and has been very helpful to us,"Hammadi said.

"Optimistically," the pandemic will only persist another 12-18 months, he added. "I don't see any supply chain challenges so far because we have all equipment at the sites," Hammadi said. "The good thing with four units is we have redundancies in equipment if we needed to make sure the first unit is operational," he added.

Globally power demand fell 20%-30% due to the pandemic, "but then gradually went up again," Hammadi said. "Electricity is the backbone for the world to continue working," he added.

Nuclear energy density is 325,000 W/kg and can provide 24/7 baseload electricity for almost 18-24 months, Hammadi said. In comparison, battery energy density is 250 W/kg and diesel energy density is 14,000 W/kg, he added.

UAE's energy mix includes nuclear, renewables and gas, Hammadi said. "We will continue using gas for the time being, and we are looking [into] hydrogen," he added. UAE has installed 80% of renewables in the region and 5.6 GW of nuclear plants, he said.

Overall construction of the Barakah plant is more than 93% complete, ENEC said March 3. Barakah Unit 2 is "more than 95%" complete, Unit 3 "more than 91%" complete and Unit 4 "more than 83%" complete, it added.