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Human Resource Development for UAE Nuclear Power Programme: Building and Sustaining Capacity through Education and Training

In an interview with the UAE Permanent Mission in Vienna, Professor Philip Albert Beeley of the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KU) talks about the establishment of the national educational system in nuclear science and technology in the United Arab Emirates.


As Chair of the Nuclear Engineering Department at Khalifa University, Prof. Beeley established the curriculum for the University's Nuclear Engineering Master’s degree (M.Sc) programme. He is the Director of the Gulf Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Institute (GNEII) and is also a member of the Federal Radiation Protection Committee in the UAE. He has been based at the Abu Dhabi campus since October 2009.


Prof. Philip Beeley is from the United Kingdom. He has obtained a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree in Chemistry from Salford University, UK, and completed his PhD in Nuclear Chemistry and Physics at McGill University, Canada, as well as Postdoctoral studies at Queen’s University, Canada. Dr. Beeley also obtained his Executive MBA from Imperial College of London, UK.  

January 2016

Prior to joining Khalifa University, Prof. Beeley was the Director and Professor of the Nuclear Department at the Defence College of Management and Technology in the Defence Academy Shrivenham, UK (1999-2009). He has also held visiting Professor appointments at the Universities of Manchester and Southampton.

The UAE Government places education and training of the future staff for its nuclear sector as a priority area for its nuclear energy programme. How do you see the pace of the UAE, being a newcomer country, in building its educational infrastructure? And how far has the UAE succeeded in its educational approach to workforce development? What are Khalifa University’s accomplishments to date in the establishment of sustainable education and training programmes in place?


I came to Khalifa University at the beginning of October 2009 to support the UAE’s nuclear academic programme at university level.  Since then, we have started a number of programmes to support tertiary education in nuclear engineering, science and technology, including the MSc degree in Nuclear Engineering in Fall 2010, the Nuclear Engineering Minor Concentration in BSc degrees in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering in 2012, and also the PhD in Engineering, with a Nuclear Engineering concentration, also in 2012.  


We have built six research/teaching laboratories supporting:


(1) radiation science metrology;

(2) environmental radiation measurements;

(3) reactor design and analysis (thermal hydraulics and reactor physics);

(4) instrumentation and control (I&C) and human factors/reliability laboratory (housing a generic three loop PWR simulator (CNS) and a generic two loop PWR simulator (ENEC learning simulator));

(5) a material science and chemistry laboratory for the study of primary circuit stress corrosion cracking and for the study of corrosion of reactor plant components and structures; and

(6) a nuclear security and safeguards laboratory.  


We therefore have high quality programmes and facilities in place and a strong foundation for sustainability and growth to meet the needs of our sector.


Since 2010, the Khalifa University offers graduate degree programmes in Nuclear Engineering, making it possible for UAE citizens to qualify for the nuclear sector. How many graduates have there been since then? And does the University follow-up with their career paths in the UAE?


We have graduated 18 MSc degree students in Nuclear Engineering and we have 6 completing their degrees. In addition, we have many students who have completed their BSc degrees in Mechanical Engineering with a Nuclear Minor concentration. In addition, we have two PhD students enrolled in Nuclear Engineering.


All programmes are accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research with external peer review. Our stakeholders manage a very active human capacity building programme and we engage with them to meet their needs.  

In all sectors, not just nuclear, Khalifa University engages with industry to gain feedback on stakeholder satisfaction with our graduates and we are receptive to developing our programmes to meet the career paths; after all lifelong learning is critical to development and growth.


Is there a growing interest among young Emiratis to pursue a degree in nuclear engineering?


The decision to introduce nuclear energy into the UAE was widely publicised, as were the benefits in terms of supporting the 2030 Economic Plan and in doing it with a form of energy that has a low impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Accordingly, the young generation of energy pioneers were enthusiastic to join the nuclear sector and contribute to the benefits it will afford the country.

Stakeholder involvement is a core element of the UAE’s nuclear energy programme and human resource development strategy.


What are the current cooperation frameworks/programmes between national key stakeholders and Khalifa University in building the human capacity needed at the level of the industry?


Our main nuclear energy stakeholders are ENEC and FANR and from the start of our programme we crafted Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) with both of them that are tailored to meet their current and future needs.  The MOUs work both ways and we also benefit from the contributions ENEC and FANR can and have made in providing us with the tools necessary to deliver high quality education and research support. As our stakeholder portfolio is expanding to include other nuclear (non-energy) stakeholders, we are also putting in place agreement instruments to facilitate two-way cooperation with them.


Khalifa University also hosts a regional leading programme for bolstering nuclear energy infrastructure knowledge – the Gulf Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Institute (GNEII). How would you highlight today GNEII’s role in the region?


GNEII was established through collaboration between Khalifa University, Sandia National Laboratories and the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute (NSSPI) at Texas A&M University in 2010, with support from both the UAE and U.S. Governments, and endorsement by our nuclear sector stakeholders. GNEII’s mission is to help develop a peaceful nuclear energy culture and institutionalize key safety, security and non-proliferation norms in the future decision-makers of Gulf-region states pursuing civilian nuclear energy programmes.  


A key objective of GNEII has been to provide the region with a continual source of indigenous nuclear energy professionals with whom the global community can effectively partner to achieve broader nuclear energy safety, security and non-proliferation priorities.  Extension and expansion of this mission, and the institute’s priorities within the Gulf and the wider Middle East area, is an aspiration for GNEII as it matures.


To date, GNEII has completed five Fundamentals courses and graduated 78 Fellows from the UAE (65 Fellows) and Region (13 Fellows), established a technical demonstration capability, and initiated research to support nuclear safety, security and safeguards (3S). The 2016 GNEII Fundamentals programme started in mid-January 2016, with 21 Fellows (students) enrolled. This is our largest class to date and evidence that GNEII plays an important role in our support for nuclear sector stakeholders in the UAE and also in the region. GNEII is now an established regional institute for nuclear safety, security and safeguards study and research.


How does the IAEA support the Khalifa University in its efforts to build long-term sustainability through nuclear education and training?


The IAEA has been a tremendous partner in supporting Khalifa University to develop its education infrastructure to meet the needs of our stakeholders and, importantly, the needs of our students. The UAE hosted the IAEA’s first international conference on Nuclear Human Capacity Building in 2010 and from there flourished a host of initiatives to support capacity building. Through the Nuclear Knowledge Management (NKM) Section of the IAEA, a regional cyber learning platform (the predecessor to CLP4NET) was built during 2010-2011. Khalifa University hosted the IAEA Nuclear Energy Management (NEM) School in 2012 and again in 2015, and Khalifa University nuclear engineering faculty have participated in a number of IAEA workshops in both Abu Dhabi and in Vienna.  


Since 2010, Khalifa University benefits from CLP4NET e-learning platform installed by the IAEA. Could you please tell us more how this e-learning platform compliments the University’s curriculum in nuclear engineering?


The original cyber platform installed at Khalifa with the cooperation of the IAEA provided a dedicated server for all our nuclear engineering e-learning material and electronic management of our academic material. As CLP4NET developed, Khalifa University adapted its original platform to incorporate the extra depth and breadth of CLP4NET, which is now run directly from the IAEA servers in Vienna.


The present platform provides our students and faculty with fast and easy access to nuclear electronic material hosted and archived from Vienna.


The UAE Government places a strong emphasis on Emiratization strategy throughout its nuclear sector. The country has been utilizing an innovative model to build its workforce based on international experience while at the same time developing local expertise through training programmes developed and being implemented by key stakeholder entities. What’s the KU’s stake in this Emiratization Policy?


Khalifa University is an academic focal point for Emiratization of the future pioneers, innovators and leaders of the country, not only in nuclear science and technology but across the key engineering and supporting science disciplines necessary to grow the knowledge-based economy that will support the 2030 plan.


The UAE also ensures that women are well-represented within its nuclear power programme. What’s the female representation among students or graduates in nuclear engineering degree programmes?  


In general, the ratio of male to female students across the university is about 50:50. It would be wrong to differentiate nuclear engineering specifically as many disciplines are needed in the nuclear sector (mechanical, electrical, material science, civil, environmental, health physics, etc).


What is KU’s future outlook in further developing the nuclear education infrastructure?


The best way to answer this is to quote from our documentation that is in the open domain, as follows.  


“Khalifa University:

(i)  Serves Abu Dhabi, UAE society, the region and the world by providing an environment of creative enquiry within which critical thinking, human values, technical competence, practical skills, business acumen and a capability for lifetime learning are cultivated and sustained:

(ii)  Sets itself high standards in providing a caring, rewarding and enriching environment for all its students and staff;

(iii) Ensures its graduates, on entering the workplace, form a superlative cadre of engineers, technologists and applied scientists, capable of making major contributions to the current and future sectors of UAE industry and society as leaders and innovators.” These three main tenants equally apply to nuclear engineering at Khalifa University as they do to all our programmes.”


Interview: Jennet Orayeva (jennet.orayeva@uae-iaea.org)



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Professor Philip Albert Beeley, Director of Nuclear Engineering Department Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research, Abu Dhabi, UAE.