The United Arab Emirates’ four nuclear energy reactors at Braka are set to come online in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively. This leaves Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) – a government-owned entity charged with implementing the UAE’s civil nuclear energy program – with less than five years to train and recruit an entire team of operators, engineers and scientists. How feasible will this be?
Five years from now, the UAE is expected to become the first Arab nation to produce nuclear energy, which will generate nearly a quarter of its electricity by 2020. By then, the country estimates it will need more than 2,000 people to manage and operate its new Korean-made nuclear fleet.
Although ENEC currently relies on a pool of foreign expertise, it has also tied up with a number of academic institutions and nuclear power companies to train undergraduates and graduates.
The power of partnerships
Locally, ENEC partners with Khalifa University to provide full and partial scholarships, as well as bachelor’s and master’s programmes to both UAE nationals and expatriates. The bachelors programme prepares students to enter the industry as qualified engineers, and the masters programme enables engineering and physics graduates to progress their training with an advanced degree.
Internationally, ENEC collaborates with some of the world’s most reputable universities and institutions. In South Korea, home of the prime contractor for UAE’s nuclear power program, the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology was selected for undergraduate disciplines.
And in the United States, the nuclear scholarship is associated with some of the top universities, including Georgia Institute of Technology; University of Wisconsin; University of Michigan; North Carolina State University; Pennsylvania State University; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Emirati students want to play a role in the development of their nation. This desire to make a difference is what drove people to join the oil and gas industries in the 1960s as pioneers of a new sector. Today’s generation of energy pioneers are turning to nuclear”, says Azzah Al Sharhan, human resources director at ENEC.
One of the most popular scholarships is being offered by ENEC through the Abu Dhabi Polytechnic, an institution created to turn Emirati high-school graduates into a generation of nuclear and semiconductor technicians. Unlike some other universities that deal with 20% of their students dropping out in the first year, the college, run by the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), has successfully retained 90% of its first intake.
Of the 113 enrolled students, 12 are women, and are mostly undergoing a higher diploma in semiconductors, which should result in job placements that are more culturally suitable than those in the nuclear field.
On the other hand, many of the men have enrolled in the “Higher Diploma in Advanced Energy Engineering Technology”, a three-year nuclear course in which they receive academic and on-the-job training, leading to qualifications in operational, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and control, chemical and radiation protection specializations.
The motivation is largely financial, considering that students taking the nuclear course all receive handsome sponsorships from ENEC. But every student at the Polytechnic is paid a monthly grant of up to $1,089 (Dh4,000), depending on their grades and attendance records.
Those who miss 10% or more of classes, however, face a deduction of $136 (Dh500) from that monthly amount. On top of that, ENEC offers nuclear students an annual bonus while studying of up to $16,335 (Dh60,000) – also linked to grades – and upon graduation they are offered guaranteed, well-paid jobs. Other benefits granted to sponsored students include marriage and child allowance, medical insurance, book allowance, and bi-annual air tickets for those studying abroad.
“Accepted students receive monthly financial rewards with the provision of transportation for the residents of Abu Dhabi, and accommodation for accepted students from other emirates”, states Dr. Abdullatif Al Shamsi, managing director of the IAT.
Dream come true
To take advantage of the summer season – a normally quiet period in the UAE due to uncomfortable high temperatures – ENEC developed the Sudo Summer Internship in partnership with the IAT, the Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), and the Sudo Electric Technical High School (SEHS). The four-week sponsorship sends best-performing IAT Grade 11 students to South Korea to undergo practical training at KEPCO and theoretical training at SEHS.
The Sudo Internship is a dream come true for nuclear students. When it launched in 2010, the program took interns to some of Korea’s most advanced nuclear research centres and plants, like the one in Bosan, Korea’s second largest city. Students were also taken to the Hsinchu Science and Technology Industrial Park – where 360 high tech and research and development companies specializing in nanotechnology, semiconductors and optical electronics are based.
Studying abroad makes up a major part of ENEC’s scholarships. While nuclear students spend between six months and two years training in Korea, semiconductor students train at plants in the United States, Germany or Singapore. The semiconductor placements are set up by the state-owned Advanced Technology Investment Company, which is building Abu Dhabi’s new microchip plants.
Investing in human capital
Besides scholarships, a limited number of career opportunities for junior and senior nuclear plant operators are also available at the Abu Dhabi Polytechnic. These placements are supported with continuous formal and on-the-job training to prepare operators for license examination by the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulations.
A select group of Emiratis have already become the UAE’s first certified nuclear reactor operators in May after completing their foundational training, delivered by ENEC’s training partner Westinghouse Electric Company. The 17-week programme prepared participants to attain the Senior Reactor Operator Licensure/Certification and consisted of an online component, classroom instruction and training in a simulator that recreates various operational situations.
The coursework covered reactor power plant theory and plant systems according to the ANSI/ANS-3.1 requirements for a nuclear station manager. “The Westinghouse programme is part of the world-class training we are providing to Emiratis pursuing an exciting career in nuclear energy as senior reactor operators”, explains ENEC’s Deputy Chief Nuclear Officer, Ahmed Al Mazrouei.
New breed of engineers
ENEC’s scholarships have also benefitted local women, and the country will soon see its first female nuclear scientist when she completes her master’s degree at Khalifa University next August. Amani Al-Hosani, a 26-year-old Emirati mother, acquired her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 2009 from UAE University and later began to work on onshore oilfields with Abu Dhabi Company for Oil Operations. Once she obtains her master’s in nuclear science, Hosani aims to work in the safety department of the Braka nuclear sites – the UAE’s first nuclear plants.
“People want to see a future for their professional careers and if you can offer them that and offer competitive remuneration, more young people will enrol in that field. The problem is in the short term: nothing in nuclear happens overnight ”, states Dr. Hans-Holger Rogner, section head at the Department of Nuclear Energy at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The UAE’s need for energy is growing by 9% each year, and ENEC expects to need more than 2,000 employees by 2020, with a target of 60% Emiratization. However, the country’s technological manpower must be available by 2013, and full operation of the intended nuclear power plants will require twice the currently available numbers.
Since the local nuclear industry will not be able to prepare all of the required manpower from nationals, it will most likely have to employ non-national manpower to close the gap. In this case, the remaining manpower will be employed from KEPCO, the company building the UAE’s four APR-1400 reactors.
Source: Nuclear Energy Insider