How has the UAE's nuclear regulatory framework developed over the last decade?
The foundation for the UAE's nuclear regulatory framework was laid out in 2008 by the Nuclear Policy, which was codified in the Nuclear Law of 2009. Prior to this, there was no national framework in the UAE for nuclear energy or even radiation technology. The latter, particularly in the medical sector, had different frameworks across individual Emirates. FANR was assigned the huge task of harmonizing everything into one national system. This involved creating regulations for siting, nuclear power plant design, radiation protection, and plant licensing application processes. FANR has now issued around 20 regulations, and they are all on the internet, with the exception of a few that remain classified. We still have some regulations to be worked out in the area of waste management, but everything else is complete. One specific feature covered by our regulations is what we call naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM). This has been particularly relevant to the work of Abu Dhabi Oil Refining Company, which has built a treatment facility licensed by FANR to deal with radium byproducts from the oil industry. The facility is not the only one of its kind in the world but is unique in the way that it treats naturally occurring radioactive waste. FANR also continually updates all its existing regulations, one example of which is our February 2019 revision of the regulations on radiation dose limits. These were amended to reflect new research and updated international standards concerning the risk posed by radiation to the lenses of the eyes of practitioners in hospitals. Research suggests the lens of the eye is more sensitive than previously thought; therefore, we have changed the dose limits accordingly to properly ensure the protection of the lens of eye for persons exposed. The UAE is one of the first countries in the world issuing legally binding regulations around this issue.
How does the UAE differentiate itself as an environment for nuclear regulators to develop best practices?
Nuclear regulation developed in the UAE without any pre-existing legacy, skills, or training institutions. There was some existing knowledge in the medical field, and from the oil and gas sector, but we have had to build upon it. For the most part, the knowledge and experience had to be built from scratch by drawing from overseas standards and expertise, and adapting to the UAE's unique environmental conditions, such as temperature, dust levels, and salinity. Particularly in the area of nuclear power plants, these conditions are relevant because they might impact the aging of metallic components. Presently, FANR takes these factors into account and consults with internationally well-known scientists in its review of the operating license application for Barakah, the UAE's first nuclear power plant. We are also taking steps to build a sound knowledge base in-country. For example, we have an ongoing research project supported by France's Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) at Abu Dhabi's Khalifa University, where we educate Emiratis on how to calculate radioactive substance levels in the UAE's unique environment, including examining how radioactivity spreads in the desert.
What are the latest developments with the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant?
It is proceeding well. It is a huge project; they are building four reactors at the same time, which is not that common, in a country without any pre-existing nuclear plant infrastructure, so everything has been imported. FANR is in the final stage of dealing with any remaining issues we have from inspections, checking the plant has been built according to the planning documents, and in line with safety assessments, and that the operating organization is capable of running it effectively.