World Nuclear Performance Report

Barakah: a powerhouse for the UAE’s sustainable development


The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant (Image:ENEC)

The now multi-unit operating plant is leading the largest decarbonization of any industry in the Arab World.

The UAE’s long-held vision of sustainably powering a growing economy with clean electricity has been reinforced with the successful power production at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi Emirate. It is leading the rapid decarbonization of the UAE’s power sector, securing the nation’s energy supply against a backdrop of escalating energy prices, and advancing the UAE’s sustainability goals. When fully operational, the Barakah plant will prevent up to 22.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year and will account for 25% of the country’s international commitments for emissions reductions.

Within the past two years there has been a marked significant shift in the development of the UAE program, from a construction site into a commercially operating nuclear plant. In February 2020, the UAE’s independent nuclear regulator the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) issued the Operating License for Barakah’s Unit 1. Shortly thereafter, 241 nuclear fuel assemblies were loaded into the reactor vessel. Following the relevant testing procedures, Unit 1 started up in July 2020, making the UAE the first country in the Arab World to operate a commercial nuclear power plant. The unit achieved commercial operation on 1 April 2021 – the start of a new chapter in the UAE’s clean energy transition.

Building on the successes of the first Unit, the Operating License for Unit 2 was issued in March 2021, followed immediately by fuel load. Using the lessons learned from unit 1, successful reactor start-up occurred in August 2021 and the unit achieved commercial operation in late March 2022. The delivery of unit 2 less than 12 months after unit 1 demonstrates the UAE’s rapid increase in institutional nuclear knowledge and experience, with lessons learned and operating experience systematically being recorded and applied to subsequent units.

The commercial operation of unit 2 brought the total capacity of clean electricity production by Barakah to 2,800 megawatts and took ENEC to the half-way mark of delivering on the commitment to supply up to a quarter of the country’s electricity needs. The now multi-unit operating plant is leading the largest decarbonization of any industry in the Arab World, delivering thousands of megawatts of carbon-free electricity every single day


The Operations Team (Image:ENEC)

ENEC, and its joint venture operating and maintenance subsidiary Nawah Energy Company, are now focused on building on existing experience and bringing Barakah 3&4 into operation. FANR issued the Operating License for unit 3 in June 2022 to Nawah and fuel load was completed shortly thereafter. These achievements on unit 3 demonstrate the great benefit in building multiple units, closely phased, to enable rapid progress in generating clean, 24/7 electricity for the UAE. Nawah recently completed the first scheduled maintenance outage on Unit 1, and has also been focused on training and qualifying its next group of reactor operators as part of its strategy to ensure a sustainable pipeline of certified operators.

With COP 28 due to be held in the UAE in 2023, all eyes will be on the Barakah plant as it demonstrates how nuclear energy complements renewables as part of a clean energy transition. ENEC is now looking beyond the Barakah plant to areas in R&D, clean hydrogen and advanced nuclear reactors, such as SMRs, to drive decarbonization and tackle climate change.


Ali Al Hammadi, CEO, Nawah Energy Company

What are your reflections on the first period of operation of units 1 and 2. Has anything differed from your expectations?

Barakah 1 has demonstrated strong performance through its first 12 months of operation. From the start of commercial operations on 1 April 2021 through to shutting the unit down for its first maintenance outage 12 months later, it generated about 10.5 TWh of electricity with on-target capacity. This is very much in line with expectations for a first-of-a-kind unit in a newcomer country.

There has been an incredibly beneficial learning curve on unit 1, with our teams of qualified UAE nationals and experienced international experts have been operating the unit in line with national regulations and striving for the highest international standards, demonstrating our continuous journey to excellence. Nawah brought in hundreds of additional specialists to support the outage, which comprised thousands of activities. With the unit back online as of July 2022 after its scheduled refuelling outage, we are aiming to ensure a capacity factor above 90%.

We can already see enhanced performance with unit 2, which entered commercial operations on 23 March 2022, and has been operating at close to 98% capacity factor ever since. We are utilizing the institutional knowledge and experience that we have built from our experience with unit 1 to boost our performance as we work to deliver clean electricity to the UAE 24/7 safely and in a quality-led manner.

We always knew that this would be a challenging period, with a steep learning curve, but we have planned for this for years, ensuring our people, plant, policies, processes and procedures were in place, tested, and tested again. We have also built a strong safety culture that permeates everything that we do and guides all of our decisions, and that has stood us in good stead as we navigate the dynamics of having three units in various stages of the operational lifecycle.

How will the experience gained from the start-up and operation of the first units on site impact the commissioning of units 3 and 4?

One of the main benefits from having four units which started construction one year apart is that we can also bring them into operation with about one year difference, taking on the lessons learned from the first and applying them to the subsequent units.


Staff complete the grid connection of unit 2 (Image:ENEC)

When you have a first-of-a-kind nuclear project, the first unit is always going to be challenging because it sets the bar for all subsequent units. Everything you do is for the first time, so a steady approach is needed to meet the high standards of the regulator. For example, unit 1 took 35 weeks to go from first criticality to commercial operations, while unit 2 took only 30 weeks. We did not compromise on safety or quality - we completed all processes and procedures in accordance with national regulations and the highest international standards, but we benefitted from the build-up of knowledge and expertise from unit 1 to make efficiency gains.

What changes has it meant for operations on site? Is there any impact on construction taking place alongside operating units?

From the beginning of the project, we knew that we would have operational units alongside others still under construction. Of course, we were not expecting to be operating multiple units during a global pandemic, but we utilized our same approach to risk management and safety to successfully continue operations while in parallel protecting our Barakah team to safely operate the plant, and of course the wider community. The fact that we safely started up Unit 1 on schedule following receipt of the Operating License – during the height of the pandemic – made the milestone an exceptionally significant achievement for us all.As we move into 2022, the level of complexity increases further. On 23 March 2022, unit 2 became commercially operational and just weeks later unit 1 entered its first scheduled refueling and maintenance outage. At the same time, we were working on finalizing our operational readiness preparations in order to demonstrate to the national regulator, FANR, that we are ready to operate unit 3. The key to managing multifaceted situations like this is to have the right people, with the right qualifications, in the right positions and to plan well in advance – nothing is left to chance. Our priority is the safe operation of the Barakah Plant to reliably deliver clean electricity to the UAE, and we have been achieving this successfully so far, as we work to now bring units 3&4 online in the coming years.