Fuel Load and Testing

In February 2020, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) issued an Operating License to Nawah Energy Company, ENEC’s subsidiary mandated to operate and maintain the four Units at Barakah, allowing them to start safely loading fuel into Barakah Unit 1.

The Operating License was issued only after a rigorous series of inspections and extensive study of the Operating License Application (OLA) document by FANR, and additional independent inspections, reviews and assessments by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In 2015, the OLA was submitted to FANR by ENEC on behalf of Nawah and includes details about the design, operation and eventual decommissioning of the first two Units at Barakah. A separate OLA was submitted by Nawah to FANR in 2017 for Barakah Units 3 and 4.

With receiving the Operating License, Nawah started the process of moving the nuclear fuel assemblies into the reactor building. This is carried out by using a special fuel transfer system that takes the fuel from storage to the reactor building where it is then lowered by large cranes into specific locations inside the reactor pressure vessel. At this time, the fuel has not been irradiated and can be handled without protective equipment.

The work is closely monitored at all times and is carried out in line with robust procedures and international best practices.

Once all of the initial fuel elements have been loaded into the reactor, a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visits the Barakah plant to perform a Physical Inventory Verification inspection. The purpose of this inspection is to identify all fuel assemblies loaded into the reactor core using their unique serial numbers, verifying that all nuclear material declared and stored at Barakah is accounted for. In this way, the IAEA confirms that none of the material has been diverted from peaceful use.

The first inspection was completed in March 2020. The successful conclusion of the inspection demonstrated that the UAE remains committed to non-proliferation and transparency.

Following the inspection, a number of tests is carried out and the top of the Reactor Vessel is re-fitted and sealed. Over the following weeks a series of tests is carried out that are designed to check that every component system on the reactor operates as it should.

Only after this testing has been completed and verified will Nawah staff begin the process to start the reactor and achieve a sustained nuclear chain reaction inside the reactor for the first time. When this is successfully achieved, reactor power is increased in stages and the next phase of testing begins, seeing the reactor move through a number of power levels before reaching 100%.

Throughout this process, numerous tests are conducted on the systems as part of an intensive program lasting several months. During the process the reactor is connected to the country’s energy grid and power will, for the first time, be delivered to the UAE electricity grid, providing the first clean, efficient and reliable nuclear-generated electricity to the nation.

After completion of all testing, the reactor is shut down for a maintenance check before starting full commercial operation.