UAE’s nuclear plant ‘well protected’ against Houthi threats, says regulator

Published February 24, 2022
SANAA: Yemenis attend a mass funeral on Wednesday for Houthi fighters killed in battles with Saudi-backed government troops.—AFP
SANAA: Yemenis attend a mass funeral on Wednesday for Houthi fighters killed in battles with Saudi-backed government troops.—AFP

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates’ only nuclear power plant is “well protected” against security threats, the regulator said on Wednesday, following a series of unprecedented drone and missile attacks on the Gulf state.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said in 2017 they fired a cruise missile towards the Barakah plant, a report which the UAE denied. The group has repeatedly threatened to target critical infrastructure in the UAE.

The Houthis have claimed three drone and missile assaults on the UAE this year, with another claimed by a little-known group. A Jan 17 strike killed three people in Abu Dhabi and wounded more.

“The nuclear power plant is designed according to high security principles and we have issued regulations for physical and cyber security,” Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) Director General Christer Viktorsson said.

“The sensitive parts of the power plant are well protected for any event,” he told reporters. The UAE overall has “robust security”, he added.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from Sanaa. The movement says it is fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.

The plant in Abu Dhabi, one of the UAE’s seven emirates and the nation’s capital, is the Arab world’s first nuclear power station and part of the oil producer’s aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Barakah will have four reactors with 5,600 megawatts of total capacity — equivalent to 25pc of the UAE’s needs. The first unit began delivering 1,400 MW to the national grid in April 2021.

Unit 2, which was licensed to operate in March 2021, is undergoing testing and expected to contribute 1400 MW to the national grid soon, Viktorsson said. FANR expects to issue Unit 3’s operating licence later this year, once plant operator Nawah Energy demonstrates regulatory requirements are met.

Nawah can then start an eight to nine months’ testing phase followed by national grid connection.

A licence to operate Unit 4 is expected roughly a year after Unit 3’s is granted, he said.

UAE to buy Chinese aircraft

Meanwhile, the UAE defence ministry said on Wednesday it plans to buy a dozen Chinese L15 aircraft, as it seeks to bolster its defences after a series of attacks by Yemeni rebels.

In December, the UAE threatened to scrap its mega-purchase of US F-35 fighter jets, protesting stringent conditions amid Washington’s concerns over China.

The UAE defence ministry said it intended to sign a contract with China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) to purchase 12 of the L15 training and light combat aircraft, with the option for 36 additional jets of the same type, the official Emirati news agency WAM reported.

“We have reached the final stage in our talks with the Chinese side. The final contract will... be signed soon,” Tareq Al-Hosani, CEO of Tawazun Economic Council, was quoted as saying. The value of the deal was not disclosed.

Tawazun — the Emirates’ defence and security acquisitions authority — was seeking to “develop the UAE’s defence capabilities and to achieve its strategic priorities”, said WAM.

The US and UAE have yet to finalise a $23 billion arms deal that includes F-35 fighter jets.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2022

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