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ABU DHABI, March 27 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates' regulator is in the final stages of issuing a licence to the operator of the Barakah nuclear power plant now being built but cannot yet give a date for when it will be granted, a senior official said on Wednesday.
Operator Nawah Energy Company said in May that Barakah should start up between the end of 2019 and early 2020. It will be the UAE's first nuclear plant and the world's largest when complete, with four reactors and 5,600 megawatts (MW) capacity.
"We are not yet ready to issue the operating licence, we are in the final stages," Christer Viktorrson, director-general of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), told reporters, adding it was "very hard" to say when it would be issued.
Barakah, which will be operated by Nawah and owned by Emirates Nuclear Energy Company, is being built by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO).
Delays in training enough local staff have pushed back the startup of the first reactor several times.
Viktorrson said the UAE was working with government entities on a strategy to provide education and training in radiation protection to those involved in the project.
He also said concrete voids detected by the contractor in the construction of two units of the plant had been repaired and he said this issue "is not part of the delay."
Asked about environmental concerns raised by Qatar to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Viktorrson said the nuclear regulator was conforming to the "highest international standards" of the IAEA for safety and security.
Qatar said in a letter to the IAEA that the Barakah plant posed a serious threat to regional stability and the environment. It called for a regional safety framework to ensure the safe use of nuclear energy in the Gulf.
(Reporting by Stanley Carvalho Editing by Edmund Blair)