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From Åland to the heart of UAE’s energy production

Christer Viktorsson has the key role in ensuring a safe nuclear culture in the UAE.

Christer Viktorsson, Picture: Laura Kaapro
Christer Viktorsson leads FANR, a 220-member organisation that directs and regulates nuclear power plant operations in the UAE.

Text and picture: Laura Kaapro

The Chernobyl nuclear accident 31 years ago was a turning point in world history, and it also changed the life of a man from Åland, an archipelago west of Finland.

“Chernobyl has affected my working life the most”, says Christer Viktorsson.

Swedish and Finnish dual national Christer Viktorsson is the Director General of FANR, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, which controls and regulates the nuclear power plant operations in the United Arab Emirates.

For that assignment, he traveled through posts in Sweden, Paris and Vienna.

During the Chernobyl accident in1986 Viktorsson worked in Stockholm at the Swedish Nuclear Safety Authority. It was spring time, and grass had begun to grow again. In some parts of the country, cows had already been let out to pasture.

The nuclear reactor explosion in Ukraine, Soviet Union, caused a steep spike in Sweden’s radiation meters.

“The first contaminated cloud drifted over the Nordic countries. With rains Finland and Sweden got a lot of nuclear pollution”, Viktorsson recollects the dramatic events.

His agency quickly took emergency measures. There was no help or information from the Soviet Union; they said nothing was wrong.

“But we had proof. Little by little, the Soviet people began to admit, that perhaps some small accident had happened.”

In the following year, 1987, Viktorsson was hired to Paris to work for OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency NEA.

His main task was to investigate how disasters such as Chernobyl – and nuclear disasters in general – could be prevented.

“The principle was that all information would be shared internationally. Transparency became a guideline”, Viktorsson says.

Since then he has participated to numerous international meetings regarding nuclear safety. For example, he just returned to Abu Dhabi from a conference held in Vienna. All the countries with nuclear power plants were represented, with the exception of Iran.

“The Russians were there, too.”

Transparency and efficient exchange of information are the values that Viktorsson is now implementing in Abu Dhabi.

He came to town in 2008 to set up the FANR agency together with an American Director General. The two-person organization began to grow fast. Now FANR has 220 employees.

Approximately 60 per cent of the personnel are Emiratis. Most of them have graduated from the Khalifa University nuclear power engineering program.

“We give them plenty of additional training, which takes a long time. That's why we still rely on foreign experts”, Viktorsson says.

So far, Christer Viktorsson is the only Finn in FANR.

“Finland has an excellent reputation and an outstanding knowhow. I hope I can attract Finnish experts to us”, Viktorsson says.

Viktorsson himself enjoys his time in the UAE. In fact, he even tried to retire in 2013, but failed.

“I had settled to my house in Åland, as I got a phone call from Abu Dhabi in 2015”, he says. “They wanted me to come back, this time as the Director General. I came right away. It tells something about how much I like this city.”

Next year, UAE’s first nuclear reactor will start to operate. By 2020, all four reactors, currently under construction, should be operational. They will cover a quarter of the country's electricity demand.

Viktorsson's ambitions for the nuclear power project in the UAE are clear.

“I want to build a safe nuclear culture to this country. Accidents are out of the question.”

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Updated 10/11/2017

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