ABU DHABI (Dispatches) – The oil-rich United Arab Emirates on Saturday announced the startup of its Barakah nuclear power plant, the first in the Arab world.
"UAE first nuclear reactor at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant has achieved first criticality and successfully started up,” tweeted Hamad Alkaabi, the country’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The UAE premier and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, tweeted that work at Barakah had "succeeded in loading nuclear fuel packages, carrying out comprehensive tests and successfully completing the operation”.
The UAE started loading fuel rods into the reactor at Barakah in February, after regulators gave the green light for the first of the plant’s four reactors, opening the way for commercial operations.
The plant on the Persian Gulf coast west of Abu Dhabi had been due to go online in late 2017 but faced a number of delays that officials attributed to safety and regulatory requirements.
The Nawah Energy Company said at the time that Unit 1 would begin commercial operations after a "series of tests” leading to the start-up process.
During the process, the unit would be synchronized with the power grid and the first electricity produced.
When completed Barakah will have four reactors with 5,600 megawatts (MW) capacity. The UAE has not disclosed the total planned investment in the project.
The UAE has substantial oil and gas reserves, but it has made huge investments in developing clean alternatives, including solar energy.
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 materialize.
Barakah was built by a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation at a cost of some $24.4 billion.
The Barakah plant, on the coast facing Iran across the Persian Gulf, stands just 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Saudi border and closer to Qatar’s capital Doha than to Abu Dhabi.
The UAE has said it will not be developing a uranium enrichment program or nuclear reprocessing technologies.