TBY talks to Christer Viktorsson, Director General of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), on the role of the institution in advancing the nuclear energy regulatory environment, the Barakah Power Plant, and the importance of an integrated network.

Christer Viktorsson
Christer Viktorsson is a nuclear physicist with more than 35 years of national and international nuclear safety experience. He has a Master’s degree in physics from the Abo Academy University in Finland. Previous career highlights include working at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency in France and at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria. He also served 10 years as Deputy Director General of the Swedish Nuclear Safety Authority. He joined FANR in 2009 and is currency Director General.

What role does FANR play in advancing the country's regulatory environment around nuclear energy?

We have established ourselves not only as a functioning regulatory body to enforce safety, security, and non-proliferation for nuclear energy, but also as an organization that supervises hospitals, dentists, and all those institutions that need licenses for sophisticated machines that emit radiation. As outlined by our management board, to become globally recognized as a leading nuclear regulator, we need to achieve excellence in our operations, like most UAE institutions. We are presently reviewing the operating license application for the Unit 1 of the Barakah plant and we need to make sure it is built according to international standards and FANR regulations before we award the operating license. The long length of this concession requires a rigorous process of supervision over safety issues and the consideration to security requirements. Also, the potential impact on the environment is part of the FANR review efforts. Before FANR issues the license to operate the reactors at Barakah, the readiness of the operating organization Nawah Energy Co. to operate the plant safely is also closely checked by our experienced inspectors, and the control room operators need to be certified by FANR. We carry out inspections, at the operator's headquarters, at the nuclear plant itself, and at manufacturing factories in several countries, like South Korea, Germany, and the US to ensure the manufacturing, construction, and commissioning is done according to high nuclear standards and in agreement with our safeguards obligations.

What is the estimated economic impact of the Barakah Power Plant on UAE market forces in the context of UAE Vision 2021?

This is the first time since 1985 that a new country introduces nuclear power, and the reason for this investment is strategic, as nuclear energy seeks to save the country from oil dependency and reduce the environmental impact of electricity production. In this context, the Barakah nuclear power plant will provide stable and reliable electricity across the UAE and provide a new career path for the economy and youth. In order to be fully operational, a lot of skills are required in various sectors, from basic science, and engineering to legal advising. Initially at FANR, expats such as myself came to set up, mentor, and train, and eventually we will leave this space to nationals. In our efforts to support the Emiratization process, we initially started hiring from the local industry and governmental institutions as well as from universities to train groups of students before moving them in the appropriate departments. Presently we have over 220 staff members, of which 64% are Emiratis and whom we have trained in nuclear and radiation regulation to be able to assume leading expert or management roles in the nuclear sector.

What is the importance of building such an integrated network with local and international authorities, and what are the major takeaways from this exchange of knowledge?

As the number of countries joining the global nuclear energy community grows, nuclear energy regulatory authorities have witnessed significant advancements in approach, while reinforcing the importance of comprehensive, independent regulation as the key to the success of a nuclear energy program anywhere in the world. In the same way as nuclear vendors and operators have transformed into global players, nuclear regulation has been impacted by “globalization" as well. In line with the need for continuous improvement and to continue to ensure maximum safety of the public, workers, and the environment, we need to strengthen our regulatory programs on nuclear safety, security, radiation protection, and safeguards. Forming international partnerships where information and experience is exchanged between regulatory authorities, as well as increasing support from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have so far resulted in stronger, more robust regulatory frameworks being set up all over the globe. Likewise for FANR, partnership with local and international entities play an indispensable role. It establishes a platform for cooperation, support and exchange of information and knowledge. Locally, FANR presently has 15 agreements and MoUs signed with federal and local government agencies, which help nurture our mission and provide the means to regulate the nuclear sector. Internationally, FANR has signed 19 agreements and MoUs with international organizations and regulatory authorities of other countries to share technical information, exchange experience and lessons learned, as well help in building national capacity in nuclear and radiation.
Thanks to having cooperation agreements, FANR has contributed strongly to the nuclear sector by creating the legal and regulatory framework to be followed, adopting and enforcing regulations for the nuclear industry that are on a high international level, and inspecting the compliance with these regulations to ensure public health and safety and ensuring the peaceful uses of it. The work of FANR and its partners is continuously enhancing the nuclear safety culture in the UAE.