Saudi-Emirati cooperation in peaceful atomic-energy programs can be a model, says head of UAE’s nuclear regulator

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Updated 07 November 2022

Saudi-Emirati cooperation in peaceful atomic-energy programs can be a model, says head of UAE’s nuclear regulator

Saudi-Emirati cooperation in peaceful atomic-energy programs can be a model, says head of UAE’s nuclear regulator
  • FANR Director-General Christer Viktorsson says development of technology that makes the world more sustainable deserves support
  • He says lessons learned at the UAE’s Barakah power plant can be useful to all countries with civil nuclear energy programs

DUBAI: As the world watches the Russia-Ukraine conflict rage on, many fear that a nuclear escalation is imminent. Despite this threat, regulators and operators around the world are working to ensure the implementation of safe nuclear power, according to the head of the UAE’s regulatory authority.

Referring to the disasters in the former Soviet Union in 1986 and in Japan in 2011, Christer Viktorsson said that while atomic energy can be a hazardous venture, “nuclear safety in general has improved significantly since Chernobyl. It improved further after the Fukushima accident. Many safety enhancements have been done.”

Nevertheless, in the context of the fighting in Ukraine, he said: “We should all be alarmed by the situation when there is a risk of a nuclear accident. We have seen accidents in the past and they have been catastrophic in nature, many of them, and done a lot of damage to the environment and public health.”

Viktorsson, currently director-general of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation in the UAE, made the remarks during an appearance on “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News current affairs talk show that engages with leading policymakers and business leaders.

The remarks came ahead of the 27th UN Climate Change Conference, or COP27, which kicked off in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday.

The UAE, which will host the COP28 climate summit, is home to the Barakah nuclear power plant, which has four reactors and is the first commercial facility of its kind in the Arab world.

In line with a plethora of environmentally friendly initiatives launched by Gulf countries, the plant will help “to limit the emission of CO2 (carbon dioxide) to the environment. And I think we all should support the development of technology that makes the world more sustainable,” Viktorsson said.

“It is not a quick fix. If you start to build a nuclear power plant and put it in operation, it takes between five and 10 years. If you want to start with more advanced technology, it might even take a longer time. So, it is part of a solution, I believe, but it’s not the only solution.”




The head of the Emirati nuclear regulator says there are many things to learn from each other’s practices and that the lessons of Barakah power plant will be useful to all countries with civil atomic-energy programs. (AN Photo)

In December 2017, the Iran-backed Houthi militia claimed that they had launched a cruise missile at the Barakah plant. While the UAE reported that no missile reached the facility, the incident demonstrated the need for the highest security and safety protocols. In February this year, Viktorsson told the Reuters news agency that he was confident that Barakah was well protected.

In the same vein, he told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” “modern nuclear power plants, including Barakah in particular, have a very strong physical protection that is part of the requirements in the UAE. Then, of course, physical protection is built into the plant.

“But the entire country needs to play together to ensure physical protection of a nuclear power plant,” he said, adding that in addition to physical security, Barakah is equipped with strong cybersecurity protocols and engages in frequent testing and drills.

For years, Saudi Arabia has worked toward a clean, safe atomic-energy program. Recently, officials from the UAE toured the Kingdom’s nuclear research reactor project at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

The specifications for the Saudi project’s reactors were designed by KACST with the participation of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, or K.A.CARE, and international experts, according to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 website.

The nuclear research project, founded by a royal decree in 2010, aims to build “a sustainable future for Saudi Arabia by developing a substantial alternative energy capacity fully supported by world-class local industries.”

Since the Kingdom became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1962, it has adhered to its commitments under the IAEA’s “Milestones Approach,” which is a three-phase plan culminating in the construction and operation of a nuclear plant.

So far, Saudi Arabia has completed phase one, which involves a series of studies, and phase two, which consists of the establishment of regulatory frameworks and organizations.

In February this year, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the IAEA, told a virtual conference in Riyadh that the agency was working closely with Saudi Arabia to develop its nuclear energy program.




For years, Saudi Arabia has worked toward a clean, safe atomic-energy program. Recently, officials from the UAE toured the Kingdom’s nuclear research reactor project at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology. (Supplied) 

“We have had a cooperation agreement now with the regulatory authority in Saudi Arabia and we have been visiting them and they have been visiting us. We meet regularly in order to share information,” said Viktorsson, a physicist with over three decades of experience in nuclear safety and regulation.

“We share information on how to build an installation, how to regulate (and) which types of regulations are needed.

“There are many things to learn from each other’s practices. I mean, we have in the UAE recently built three reactors and Saudi Arabia is starting to build. So, of course, there (are) a lot of interests in common. And the UAE and FANR is willing to share, because one of our principles is transparency and openness to civil nuclear technology.”

While Iran continues to press ahead with its controversial nuclear program, Viktorsson said: “I think the UAE is already a model, and the cooperation between (the UAE and Saudi Arabia) could be another model of how two countries next to each other could support each other in the peaceful aspects of nuclear power.

“In the region, as we see in other regions of the world, there is a lot of openness and discussions and cooperation between regulatory authorities. And this is something that we are introducing now also in this region. It’s of great, great benefit.”

Safety is the highest priority for FANR and the UAE when it comes to nuclear power, according to Viktorsson. Since 2008, the country’s nuclear policy has “emphasized that the UAE is going to comply with the highest international standards in safety, security and non-proliferation. And we are implementing that in the siting of the Barakah power plant.

“We have assessed the site, that it’s safe. We have supervised the construction of the Barakah power plant, all the time with our inspectors. We are now supervising the operation.”

Barakah is subjected to rigorous safety and regulatory protocols, Viktorsson said. Eight resident inspectors work closely alongside operators, monitoring daily operation, maintenance and repair activities.

In addition to this, the FANR headquarters in Abu Dhabi has screens monitoring each reactor, and frequently runs simulators to prepare for any possible scenario at the plant. Laboratories also monitor the radiation levels of fish, water, air and sand around Barakah.

“The UAE has signed and adhered to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, the Convention on Radioactive Waste, the Convention on Physical Protection — all the instruments that, really, are there to support safety, security and non-proliferation,” Viktorsson said.

In recent months, IAEA officials have expressed concern that the fighting in Ukraine could result in a catastrophic nuclear accident at the Zaporizhzhya atomic power plant, Europe’s largest. The plant has been under Russian control for months now, operated by Ukrainian engineers.

“We should all be alarmed by the situation when there is a risk of a nuclear accident,” said Viktorsson. “We have seen accidents in the past and they have been catastrophic in nature, many of them, and done a lot of damage to the environment and public health.”




Christer Viktorsson said that while atomic energy can be a hazardous venture, “nuclear safety in general has improved significantly since Chernobyl.” (AN Photo)

Talking of safety, he said location and operation of a nuclear power plant are not the only challenges when it comes to safety. The disposal and storage of nuclear waste is another issue that countries establishing their nuclear power capabilities must tackle.

There are different types of nuclear waste produced by power plants. One category is operational waste, which are clothes, tools and equipment contaminated with radioactivity, that require a certain type of treatment, but are classified as “low- and intermediate-level waste,” and can be stored easily.

The challenge,  according to Viktorsson, is the disposal and storage of spent nuclear fuel.

“That is a different story because that is hazardous for thousands of years and we need to make sure that we find a system that really can take care of this waste. So, a lot of research has gone on in the world and we are benefiting from all this experience from other countries, in the UAE. And the government is working on a policy now for the safe disposal of nuclear spent fuel,” he said.

Since 2008, Viktorsson said, the UAE has committed to taking “a very responsible attitude toward the safety of radioactive waste, the same attitude as for the nuclear power plant.”

However, he adds, “the decision to be made on this matter is not urgent. We have almost 100 years before we need to decide on the final solution for spent nuclear fuel. One can imagine that the technology is going to develop. So, we might find a smarter way of taking care of nuclear waste than disposing of it in the ground. But the UAE is making sure that we will take care of it in a safe manner and in order to make sure that it doesn’t damage any environment or human being.”

In addition to diversifying the UAE’s energy sources and economy away from oil and gas, the country’s nuclear program has brought with it social benefit, according to Viktorsson. He stated that FANR’s workforce is 44 percent female and 72 percent Emirati.

“It is important that we utilize all the skills that exist in the country, and many of the young females and men are very interested to join FANR and the nuclear industry,” he said.

 

 

 


Syria Kurds halt joint operations with US-led coalition after Turkish attacks

Syria Kurds halt joint operations with US-led coalition after Turkish attacks
Updated 02 December 2022

Syria Kurds halt joint operations with US-led coalition after Turkish attacks

Syria Kurds halt joint operations with US-led coalition after Turkish attacks
  • Turkiye is preparing a ground invasion against Syrian Kurdish fighters
  • Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder earlier said operations against Daesh had not stopped

QAMISHLI: The Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed group that helped defeat Daesh terrorists in Syria, has stopped all joint counter-terrorism operations as a result of Turkish bombardment on its area of control, a spokesman said Friday.
Turkiye has ramped up its shelling and air strikes on northern Syria in recent weeks and is preparing a ground invasion against Syrian Kurdish fighters that it dubs terrorists but which make up the bulk of the US-supported SDF.
The SDF has long warned that fighting off a new Turkish incursion would divert resources away from protecting a prison holding Daesh fighters or targeting Daesh sleeper cells still waging hit-and-run attacks in Syria.
Aram Henna told Reuters that “all coordination and joint counter-terrorism operations with the coalition” as well as “all the joint special operations we were carrying out regularly” had had been halted.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder earlier told reporters that operations against Daesh had not stopped.
SDF head Mazloum Abdi earlier this week told Reuters he wanted a “stronger” message from Washington after seeing unprecedented Turkish deployments along the border.
“We are still nervous. We need stronger, more solid statements to stop Turkiye,” he said. “Turkiye has announced its intent and is now feeling things out. The beginning of an invasion will depend on how it analyzes the positions of other countries.”


UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed orders $817 million housing support for citizens

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed orders $817 million housing support for citizens
Updated 02 December 2022

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed orders $817 million housing support for citizens

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed orders $817 million housing support for citizens
  • The third housing package of 2022 coincided with the UAE’s 51st National Day celebrations
  • UAE president earlier waived off over $146 million of debts for 1,214 Emirati citizens

DUBAI: UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan has ordered disbursement of housing loans worth $817 million for 1,900 Abu Dhabi citizens.

The third housing package of 2022 coincided with the UAE’s 51st National Day celebrations, marked on Dec.2, bringing the total value of housing support this year to almost $2 billion that benefitted over 4,000 citizens.

“It reflects the leadership’s commitment to ensuring social stability, enhancing living standards and enabling citizens to raise strong and stable families that will benefit the future of the UAE,” said a statement on Emirates News Agency (WAM).

The package includes housing loans, and the exemption of the retired and families of deceased borrowers in Abu Dhabi from loan repayments.

Ahead of the National Day, the UAE president earlier waived off over $146 million of debts for 1,214 Emirati citizens.

The Non-performing Debt Relief Fund said it would settle money owed by Emiratis in 17 banks, WAM earlier reported.


OIC welcomes UN resolutions on Palestinian cause

OIC welcomes UN resolutions on Palestinian cause
Updated 02 December 2022

OIC welcomes UN resolutions on Palestinian cause

OIC welcomes UN resolutions on Palestinian cause

JEDDAH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) welcomed the UN General Assembly’s adoption of five crucial resolutions on Palestine and the Middle East, including a text that calls on Israel to cease all actions aimed at ‘altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.‘
The Assembly adopted resolutions related to the mandate and work of the Committee on the “Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Division of Palestinian Rights in the United Nations Secretariat,” the media program on the Palestinian cause and the basic principles of a “peaceful solution” to the Palestinian cause.
It also adopted a resolution to commemorate Nakba Day, when Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948 following the foundation of Israel.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said, during the debate that Israeli exceptionalism has only emboldened Israel’s worst instincts, a UN Assembly noted.
“Today the Assembly will finally acknowledge the historical injustice that befell the Palestinian people, adopting a resolution that decides to commemorate in the Assembly Hall the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Nakba,” it added.
The OIC praised the positions of the countries that contributed to sponsoring and supporting these resolutions, affirming their commitment to international law and in line with their historical positions based on the principles of truth, justice and peace, state news agency SPA meanwhile reported.


Unified strategy needed to resolve water shortage in Arab world, Egypt conference hears

Unified strategy needed to resolve water shortage in Arab world, Egypt conference hears
Updated 02 December 2022

Unified strategy needed to resolve water shortage in Arab world, Egypt conference hears

Unified strategy needed to resolve water shortage in Arab world, Egypt conference hears

CAIRO: The fourth Arab Water Conference titled “Arab Water Security for Life, Development and Peace,” organized by Palestine, the Arab League and the Arab Water Experts Network in Cairo, kicked off on Nov. 30.

The two-day conference was held under the auspices of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with the participation of ministers of water resources as well as delegations from Arab countries and concerned regional organizations.

The conference on Wednesday and Thursday included working sessions and presentations of scientific papers dealing with issues related to water scarcity, drought and climate change.

Among the topics addressed were challenges posed by water scarcity and solutions to these, water demand and drought management, climate change, shared water resources and water diplomacy.

The conference also covered water desalination technology, the management of groundwater resources, the financing of and investment in the water sector, and challenges related to water in the Arab region.

Abbas, in a speech delivered on his behalf by Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr, stressed that resolving the issue of water shortage in the Arab world requires developing a unified and comprehensive strategy that defends the right to water in the face of occupation, exploitation, or encroachment. It also entails the development of plans to confront water and food deficits due to existing challenges.

Abbas said: “Arab water security poses a major challenge to nearly 453 million Arab citizens, and it is an issue that captures the attention of Arab countries, as represented by the Arab League’s decision to establish the Council of Arab Water Ministers.”

He added that the transnational waters of the Arab world are a matter of security.

“We stand with our brothers in Egypt and Sudan in their demands on everything related to the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and in ensuring that their water, agricultural or energy-related security is not compromised,” Abbas said.

He called for reaching a binding legal agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, in line with the statement issued by the UN Security Council in September 2021, in a manner that perpetuates cooperation and consolidates common interests among the peoples of the region.

He also called for joint Arab cooperation to find alternative sources of water for major projects that benefit everyone in light of the severe water shortage in Arab countries.

Hani Sweilem, Egyptian minister of water resources and irrigation, affirmed that the water issue in Egypt is one of the most important pillars of Egyptian national security and a major axis in achieving sustainable development. 

He said Egypt is one of the driest countries in the world, as rainfall in the country is estimated to be 1.3 billion cubic meters annually.

He said 97 percent of Egypt’s water depends on the Nile, which comes from outside its borders.

Over the years, the per capita share of water in Egypt decreased to about 560 cubic meters annually, compared to the global water poverty line, which determines the per capita share at 1,000 cubic meters annually, Sweilem said.


Egypt, Greece carry out joint air exercise MENA-II

Egypt, Greece carry out joint air exercise MENA-II
Updated 02 December 2022

Egypt, Greece carry out joint air exercise MENA-II

Egypt, Greece carry out joint air exercise MENA-II

CAIRO: The Egyptian and Greek air forces carried out the joint air exercise MENA-II with the participation of multirole combat aircraft.

The exercise comes within the framework of supporting and strengthening military cooperation relations with friendly and brotherly countries, said Egyptian military spokesman Gharib Abdel-Hafez.

The training included the implementation of a number of theoretical lectures to unify concepts, refine skills, and coordinate the management of joint operations in various methods of modern air combat.

Multirole fighters from both sides carried out joint sorties to train in attacking hostile targets and defending vital assets efficiently.

The training showed the extent to which the participating personnel have reached a high level of professionalism in carrying out all tasks, Abdel-Hafez said. 

The training “reflects the extent to which the air forces of both countries possess advanced human and technical capabilities that qualify them for joint action under various circumstances,” he added.

According to the Egyptian military, the training is an extension of a series of joint exercises being conducted in light of the Egyptian and Greek armed forces’ growing partnership and military cooperation in a variety of fields.

The MEDUSA-12 drills lasted several days in the Mediterranean Sea last month, and forces from Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, and the US took part.

Observers from the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, Germany, France, Romania, Congo, and Morocco were also present.

In August, Egyptian and Greek naval forces engaged in a joint exercise in the Mediterranean, within the range of the Egyptian Northern Fleet.

According to the Egyptian military, the drills contributed to exchanging joint experiences with Greek naval forces, and helped both sides achieve common aims and maintain maritime security and stability in the region.