ABU DHABI: The United Arab Emirates said on Mon­day it has issued a licence for a reactor at its Barakah nuclear power plant, the first in the Arab world, hailing it as a “new chapter”.

The UAE has substantial energy reserves, but with a power-hungry population of 10 million it has made huge investments in developing alternative power sources including solar.

“Today marks a new chapter in our journey for the development of peaceful nuc­­­lear energy with the issuing of the operating licence for the first Barakah plant,” Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said in a tweet.

“As we prepare for the next 50 years to safeguard our needs, our biggest strength is national talent.” The Barakah plant, located on the Gulf coast west of the capital Abu Dhabi, had been due to come online in late 2017 but faced a number of delays that officials attributed to safety and regulatory requirements.

The national nuclear regulator has now given the green light to the first of four reactors at the plant, Hamad al-Kaabi, the UAE representative to the Inter­national Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a press conference.

Abu Dhabi authorities said in January that the plant would start operating within a few months. No new date was given on Monday but Kaabi indicated it would happen soon.

“The full operation of Barakah plant in the near future will contribute to the UAE’s efforts for development and sustainability,” he said, adding that the operator would “undertake a period of commissioning to prepare for commercial operation”.

The plant is a regional first — Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, has said it plans to build up to 16 nuclear reactors, but the project has yet to materialise.

It is being built by a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation at a cost of some $24.4bn.

When fully operational, the four reactors have the capacity to generate 5,600 megawatts of electricity, around 25pc of the nation’s needs. The remaining three reactors are almost ready for operation.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2020