Operations begin at UAE's Barakah plant, the first nuclear power station in Arab world

Agencies
August 2, 2020

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Dubai, Aug 2: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced on Saturday that it has started operations in the first of four reactors at the Barakah nuclear power station - the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world.

Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), which is building and operating the plant with Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) said in a press release that its subsidiary Nawah Energy Company "has successfully started up Unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, located in the Al Dhafrah Region of Abu Dhabi".

That signals that Unit 1, which had fuel rods loaded in March, has achieved "criticality" - a sustained fission chain reaction.

"The start-up of Unit 1 marks the first time that the reactor safely produces heat, which is used to create steam, turning a turbine to generate electricity," said ENEC.

Barakah, which was originally scheduled to open in 2017, has been dogged by delays and is billions of dollars over budget. It has also raised myriad concerns among nuclear energy veterans who are concerned about the potential risks Barakah could visit upon the Arabian Peninsula, from an environmental catastrophe to a nuclear arms race.

Paul Dorfman, an honorary senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University College London and founder and chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, has criticised the Barakah reactors' "cheap and cheerful" design that he says cuts corners on safety.

Dorfman authored a report (PDF) last year detailing key safety features Barakah's reactors lack, such as a "core catcher" to literally stop the core of a reactor from breaching the containment building in the event of a meltdown. The reactors are also missing so-called Generation III Defence-In-Depth reinforcements to the containment building to shield against a radiological release resulting from a missile or fighter jet attack.

Both of these engineering features are standard on new reactors built in Europe, says Dorfman.

There have been at least 13 aerial attacks on nuclear facilities in the Middle East - more than any other region on earth.

The vulnerability of critical infrastructure in the Arabian Peninsula was further laid bare last year after Saudi Arabia's oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by 18 drones and seven cruise missiles - an assault that temporarily knocked out more than half of the kingdom's oil production.

On Saturday, Dorfman reiterated his concern that there is no regional protocol in place to determine liability should an accident or incident at Barakah result in radioactive contamination spreading from the UAE to its neighbours. 

"Given Barakah has started up, because of all the well-rehearsed nuclear safety and security problems, it may be critically important that the Gulf states collectively evolve a Nuclear Accident Liability Convention, so that if anything does go wrong, victim states may have some sort of redress," Dorfman told Al Jazeera. 

The UAE has substantial oil and gas reserves, but it has made huge investments in developing alternative energy sources, including nuclear and solar.

Experts though have questioned why the UAE - which is bathed in sunlight and wind - has pushed ahead with nuclear energy - a far more expensive and riskier option than renewable energy sources.

When the UAE first announced Barakah in 2009, nuclear power was cheaper than solar and wind. But by 2012 - when the Emirates started breaking ground to build the reactors - solar and wind costs had plummeted dramatically.

Between 2009 and 2019, utility-scale average solar photovoltaic costs fell 89 percent and wind fell 43 percent, while nuclear jumped 26 percent, according to an analysis by the financial advisory and asset manager Lazard.

There are also concerns about the potential for Barakah to foment nuclear proliferation in the Middle East - a region rife with geopolitical fault lines and well-documented history of nuclear secrecy.

The UAE has sought to distance itself from the region's bad behaviour by agreeing not to enrich its own uranium or reprocess spent fuel. It has also signed up to the United Nation's nuclear watchdog's Additional Protocol, significantly enhancing inspection capabilities, and secured a 123 Agreement with the United States that allows bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation.

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News Network
September 23,2020

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Sharjah, Sep 23: An Indian expatriate cannot believe that he can finally go home after 20 years, with Dh750,000 of fine waived off by Sharjah authorities.

What's in a name? Even a letter matters, says Thanavel Mathiazhaagan, an Indian worker in the UAE who is set to return home after being granted a waiver of nearly Dh750,000 in overstay fines, reports Gulf News.

The man from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu claims that he could not avail amnesty opportunities in the UAE in the last 20 years as his identity verification was not cleared from India due to a mismatch in his father's name in documents back home and that shown in his passport. As it turns out, there was a spelling error in his father's name in the documents in India.

Mathiazhaagan, 56, said he himself realised this (the reason for not getting the clearance) only after his latest request for repatriation was taken up by two social workers in the UAE after he sought their help to return home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He told media that he had landed in the UAE in 2000 after paying Rs 120,000 (Dh6,048) to a recruitment agent for a job in Abu Dhabi. This could be verified from the stamp on his employment visa entry permit -- the only document that Mathiazhaagan has preserved, apart from a copy of the last page of his passport.

He said the agent had taken his original passport, claiming that his residence visa would be stamped in the passport once he gets the medical fitness certificate issued.

"I took the medical test and waited for my employment visa. But, the agent kept delaying it and later I got to know that the company, which was supposed to hire me, had shut down." Eventually, he said, the agent stopped answering his calls and could not be traced at all later.

"I stayed in a room with some people from my native place. I lived there for eight months with no job. After that I came to Sharjah and started doing odd jobs."

Mathiazhaagan said he illegally stayed in the UAE to feed his family by doing part-time jobs for various households and companies.

He claimed that he did try for returning home during the previous visa amnesty offers in the UAE and lost more than Dh10,000 to people who promised to help him with clearance of his documents that never came through.

Prior to the fine waiver announced till November 17 this year for people with expired visas or who had their visas cancelled before March 1 during the Covid-19 pandemic, the UAE government had granted visa amnesties in 2003, 2007, 2012 and 2018.

Gulf News could not independently verify if Mathiazhaagan had indeed applied for an emergency certificate (EC), a one-way travel document issued to Indians without a valid passport, in order to facilitate their return home, during the earlier instances of amnesty.

However, A. K. Mahadevan and Chandra Prakash. P, who helped Mathiazhaagan get an EC through the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said he had failed to get identity clearance from India during the pandemic. They said they found out the reason behind the rejection only after Mathiazhaagan met Mahadevan, seeking help to return home.

"His name is Thanavel Mathiazhaagan as per the copy of the last page of his lost passport and the UAE entry permit," said Prakash, the Vice-President of Indian People's Forum, a community organisation that also pitched to get a travel clearance for Mathiazhaagan.

"Unfortunately, the documents sent by Trichy Regional Passport Office to the Senthurai Police Station for his identity verification showed his father's name as Thangavel whereas his father's actual name is Thanavel -- according to all other records. The additional letter 'g' in the name created the problem," said Prakash.

The duo said they approached the Indian Embassy and the local departments in Mathiazhaagan's village to rectify the mistake and process his documents. "Indian Ambassador to the UAE Pavan Kapoor took special interest in solving this case after the issue was taken up with him," said Prakash.

Mahadevan said he was happy that Mathiazhaagan would be flying home soon and meeting his youngest daughter, who had not even been born when he left India for the UAE.

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News Network
September 13,2020

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Dubai, Sept 13: An Indian in the UAE was honoured by the police for returning a bag containing USD 14,000 and gold, a media report said on Saturday.

Retesh James Gupta, who lives in Dubai, was praised by the Dubai Police for his honesty and gave him a certificate of appreciation for being a responsible resident, Gulf News reported.

The bag he returned to the police contained USD 14,000 cash and gold worth 200,000 dirhams (USD 54,452), it said.

Brigadier Yousef Abdullah Salim Al Adidi, Director of Al Qusais Police Station, awarded Gupta at the police station and emphasised the importance of collaboration between the community and police.

It was not immediately known who was the owner of the bag.

Mr Gupta thanked the Dubai Police for awarding him, saying the gesture gave him pride and joy.

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Agencies
September 23,2020

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Saudi Arabia celebrates its National Day on Wednesday this year, with concerts and other events, while adhering to COVID-19 precautionary measures, to commemorate the Kingdom’s unification under its founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, 90 years ago.

Celebrations amid the coronavirus pandemic

This year, the country’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) organized a string of concerts that will take place from September 22-26 to celebrate the national holiday, in accordance with GEA guidelines that were put in place to ensure everyone’s safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines emphasize the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, reducing the duration of social contact, in addition to other preventative measures.

However, authorities in the Kingdom have reduced the number of attendees expected to attend the concerts as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus, according to Rotana Music, a record label company involved in organizing the concerts.

Also happening this year, Saudi designer Omaima Kindassa is staging a fashion show in Jeddah to showcase traditional clothing from regions around the Kingdom, inspired by the traditions of the diverse tribal communities in the country.

On Wednesday, more than 60 military and civilian aircrafts will participate in a live show that will air on Saudi TV 1, GEA said in a tweet, adding that it will be the largest air show in the history of Saudi Arabia’s National Day celebrations.

Additionally, GEA has set up an online platform for free National Day-themed printables that includes logos, images, and illustrations that users could download and print at home to use for decorative purposes.

Sense of unity

Saudis feel “a sense of unity” every year on National Day, 30-year-old Sultan al-Osaimi from Riyadh told Al Arabiya English.

“I feel like people are united on National Day, you can feel it in the air. Everyone feels a sense of belonging, this is especially heightened on national holidays,” al-Osaimi said.

“Everybody gets excited, people dress up in green [the color of the Saudi flag].”

“I am proud to be from this country. May our country always stay safe,” al-Osaimi added.

Al Anoud bin Juma, a 23-year-old, echoed al-Osaimi’s remarks.

“Although many people will stay home due to COVID-19, I really feel like Saudis have a genuine feeling of belonging and unity, this year more than ever.”

Bin Juma, who lives in Riyadh but is a Qassim native, explained that this feeling of unity comes from the safety and security the Kingdom provides, even during a global pandemic. “I feel safe here [in Saudi] and I appreciate the efforts of the country during the coronavirus crisis.”

“Saudi Arabia always puts its citizens and residents first, and I am very thankful to be from this country,” Bin Juma said, adding that she loves to celebrate its National Day.

Previous National Day celebrations

In 2005, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz made September 23 a national holiday in the Kingdom.

Since then, the country celebrated its national day in various ways. Last year, Saudi Arabia’s 89th National Day featured over 70 entertainment events across the Kingdom, including light shows, fireworks, and music performances, organized by the country’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) for a five-day National Day Season.

In 2018, more than 900,000 fireworks lit up the sky simultaneously from over 58 sites across the Kingdom in celebration of its 88th National Day.

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