Plant Operations

Operating License

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 following a rigorous series of inspections and extensive study of the Operating License Application (OLA) document by FANR. Since 2009, ENEC and Nawah have been subject to more than 280 inspections by FANR. Additionally, more than 40 independent inspections, reviews and assessments by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have taken place. All of the reviews and checks have ensured the highest international standards are met throughout the development and delivery of the UAE Program

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.

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Loading Fuel

Following receipt of the Operating License, Nawah transferred the first 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.

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Independent Inspection and Verification

Once all of the initial fuel assemblies 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 are 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.


Reactor Startup

Only after this testing has been completed and verified, Nawah staff begin the process to start the reactor and achieve a sustained nuclear chain reaction inside the reactor for the first time. Reactor startup, also known as First Criticality, is the first time the operators release a neutron, which collides into a Uranium atom (the Uranium pellets are loaded inside the fuel assemblies which are inside the reactor), which releases heat and more neutrons. The new neutrons then hit more Uranium atoms, which split, releasing more heat and neutrons and so on. This is called fission and it continues by itself, controlled by the operators using special equipment.

We then allow the reaction to continue, step-by-step, increasing the amount of heat inside the reactor. We will slowly increase the rate of fission and the amount of heat produced inside the reactor until we can make enough steam to turn the turbine, which will spin the generator and make clean electricity. This process is safely completed over a number of months.

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 electricity grid and power is, for the first time, delivered to the UAE, 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, known as an outage, before starting full commercial operation.

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Grid Connection

In a nuclear energy plant, grid connection happens in the same way as in any gas, coal or oil-fired plant. The equipment and process for grid connection are all the same. The main difference with any fossil-fueled plant is that a nuclear plant uses uranium pellets as fuel to generate heat, which creates steam that spins a turbine, which in turn drives the electric generator to produce electricity. This process creates zero carbon emissions.

To connect a nuclear plant to the electricity grid, the reactor operators slowly increase the heat generated by the reactor to generate enough steam to begin spinning the turbine and driving the generator. Once the reactor is at about 15% power, enough steam is created to have the turbine spinning at its optimal speed of 1,500 revolutions per minute (RPM). This allows the electric generator to prepare to synchronize and connect to the national electricity grid.

With the first megawatts of clean electricity from peaceful nuclear energy now being delivered to homes and business across the UAE, this milestone is a significant moment in the continued safe, secure, and quality-led delivery of the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program and its Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, the Arab World’s first peaceful nuclear energy plant.

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Power Ascension Testing

With the plant connected to the electricity grid, Nawah’s operators run a series of tests as part of the Power Ascension Testing (PAT) process. They increase the reactor power in stages, testing and monitoring plant components and ensuring that electricity is being generated safely. After several months, the Unit is brought to 100% power and allowed to operate at its maximum output capacity.

The reactor is then shut down and Nawah’s engineering and maintenance crews perform inspections and checks on the plant’s equipment to ensure they are ready for long-term, sustainable operations. Over the course of several weeks, they carry out planned and corrective maintenance before starting the reactor back up to conduct the final set of tests.


Commercial Operations

With the reactor operational again, Nawah’s operators, engineers and technicians determine that the plant meets all requirements in accordance with national regulations and the highest international safety standards. They operate the plant at 100% power for a pre-determined period of time, at the end of which Unit is declared commercially operational, delivering clean electricity to the UAE electricity grid 24/7.

Commercial Operations marks the end of testing for a nuclear reactor, declaring it fully operational and meeting all national requirements and international standards. From this moment on, the Unit will deliver vast amounts of clean and reliable electricity, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the next 60 years, only stopping to refuel every 12 to 18 months.

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