DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates, in a first among Gulf Arab states, geared up Wednesday to start building its maiden nuclear power plant after securing approval from regulators.
The license from the UAE's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation will make the country the first in more than two and a half decades to embark on construction of its first nuclear power plant. It covers the construction of the initial two reactors of a plant slated for a remote coastal site near the border with Saudi Arabia.
The project is designed to meet growing demand for power in the rapidly developing seven-state federation, which includes the Mideast commercial hub Dubai and the energy-rich capital Abu Dhabi. Despite its oil wealth, the OPEC member has to import natural gas to run many of its existing power plants and has struggled to keep up with demand.
FANR Director General William Travers called the granting of the construction license "an important milestone in any nuclear program."
"All of the specific characteristics of the site have been assessed," he said. "It represents at least a preliminary approval of the design that's been proposed."
Travers, a veteran of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the UAE regulator specifically asked the plant's developer, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp., to examine lessons learned from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster as part of the approval process.
"We had an opportunity ... to take account of Fukushima and do something on paper before it was already constructed," he said.
That review prompted ENEC to propose some design changes, such as adding watertight doors in certain areas, but no major adjustments were needed, Travers said.
The license does not authorize the state-backed ENEC to physically import nuclear fuel or operate the reactors. That approval requires another round of applications to the regulator.
A UAE environmental regulator signed off on the project earlier this week.