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Emirati engineers blaze trail in UAE nuclear industry

posted on 03/05/2016: 2527 views

Emirati women's empowerment has been taken to a nuclear level. Take Fatma Al Muhairi for example.

Ms Al Muhairi began her career in the nuclear industry with a clear aim — to get as many Emiratis as possible to join her.

This was not as easy as the mechanical engineer from Khalifa University first thought, in an industry that was then considered a peculiar choice for women.

"My family was scared at first because they wanted to know if it was safe and secure," said Ms Al Muhairi, 23, from Abu Dhabi. "They wanted to know if it was OK for a woman to work here.

"But I explained to them that it was. I am not the only woman here so they accepted it and they support me."

Ms Al Muhairi is one of nine nuclear engineers recently hired by the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, or Fanr, which is lifting its recruitment of Emirati staff.

She and her female colleagues have taken part in a 14-week course at Khalifa University to learn about nuclear safety, security, safeguards and radioactivity.

They then rotate through each of Fanr's departments to see which suits them best.

Today, 61 per cent of Fanr's staff is Emirati, compared with 48 per cent six years ago. More than half of them are women.

Thirty-six of the 80 jobs held by Emiratis in the operations division are held by women, and that's just a start.

"We don't have a lot of locals so I'm going to help more of them to join and teach them, because no one will stay forever," Ms Al Muhairi said.

"I think nuclear energy is the future. It's interesting and something we have to learn because we might depend on it in the future."

She hopes to work in the safety section.

"I'm interested in inspecting and I think I have got the skills that are needed in this field.

"As an inspector I have to be aware and notice details, ensure everything is going right and make sure everything is safe, from employees to the environment to the public."

Amal bin Lootah, 23, a civil engineer from Dubai, said the national importance of the nuclear sector meant more Emiratis were needed.

"I went to South Korea as part of a youth ambassador programme, which made me interested in the nuclear industry," Ms bin Lootah said. "When you study it, you realise that nuclear is safe and you get more radiation when you travel on a plane. But people get scared."

Huda Al Tamimi, a mechanical engineer from Ras Al Khaimah who is also 23, said: "We are here to serve our country. I got the chance, so why not?

"Fanr has the vision I am looking for, which is protecting the environment and people from radioactive material and the threat from any nuclear misuse.

"We're still not operating but I'm very excited to be a part of it because it's my role to clear up the messed-up ideas about nuclear to the public."

For Amal Al Saleem, 24, a mechanical engineer from Abu Dhabi who did her internship at Airbus in Toulouse, France, the responsibility is the most challenging aspect of the nuclear industry.

"My goal was always to find a place for myself to be a part of the UAE's development," Ms Al Saleem said. "I don't want to be useless to the country and the nuclear industry will definitely be needing national engineers, which is what motivated me to join Fanr."

"My favourite would be safety because I'm interested in ensuring the safety of our programme," Ms Al Saleem said. "I want to deal with regulation of the power plant, which means we're supposed to inspect, not interfere."

With 21 fellows, including 16 from Fanr, two from the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation and three from the Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority, the course was taught by different instructors from the US and Khalifa University.

"It's for the young workforce of the nuclear industry," said Dr Alexander Solodov, the university's assistant professor in nuclear engineering. "Our goal is to give them a broad outlook of what nuclear is, its purpose and the understanding of the importance of safety, security and safeguards." – The National -


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