With this series, we celebrate the thought leaders and the brilliant people who carry the nation’s legacy into the future.
To be an Emirati is to dream for the UAE. From a barren desert, the Emirates soared: Skyscrapers rose, world records were smashed, space dreams blasted off – the impossible became possible. And the secret? The vision, the grit and the heart of an Emirati. With this weekly #IAmEmirati series, we celebrate the pioneers, the thought leaders, and the brilliant people who carry the nation’s legacy into the future. Here, you’ll meet the dreamers and achievers of the UAE.
When the UAE switched on the first nuclear reactor of the Barakah power plant on August 1 and became the first Arab country to produce nuclear energy, Mohammed Ali Al Harbi felt a rush of emotions.
As the first Emirati to qualify as a nuclear inspector, Harbi had seen his country’s nuclear ambitions grow and come to fruition from close quarters.
“It brought back a flood of memories of my visits to different nuclear power plants around the world. I had always wondered and dreamt of the day when the UAE would build our own nuclear plant,” Al Harbi, 36, told Khaleej Times.
“The UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, had vision one day and, today, we are all witnessing this dream coming true. It was really a special day for me,” said Harbi, who is working as a senior specialist in the Nuclear Safety department. He is responsible with the team for evaluating the safe start-up and commissioning of Barakah Unit 1. He took his master’s in nuclear engineering from Khalifa University in 2012.
After earning a degree in chemical engineering, Al Harbi’s natural choice was to turn to the oil and gas industry like many of his fellow graduates. “But I wanted to do something different. That was when I saw a newspaper ad titled, ‘Do you want to be the next Nuclear Energy Pioneer? Apply now!'”
That was a turning point for the young engineer, who was raring to do more for his country. “Back in 2009, nobody in the UAE ever thought that, one day, we will be a peaceful nuclear nation. I felt this was my chance to write history.”
Out of the 5,000 applications, only the top five talents made the cut. Al Harbi was one of them.
With an MSc in nuclear engineering from Khalifa University, Al Harbi joined the Federal Authority of Nuclear Regulation (FANR) as the first Emirati holding this degree.
“I started working as an engineer and earned my nuclear inspector title. I was able to represent the UAE and FANR in several international events as an expert.”
In 2017, he applied for the inspection residence programme and started working in the field, inspecting nuclear systems.
“Waking up every morning to see Barakah nuclear units complete its construction was a unique experience. Of course, living in the remote site meant staying away from family and friends, but it was all worth it.”
Al Harbi’s dedication won him the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Medal for best field employee in the UAE government. This year, he got selected for the UAE government’s leadership programme, QIYADAT, which aims to nurture leaders of the future.
Al Harbi said the most important thing he learnt from his experiences was that “great things never come from your comfort zone”.
“That is my advice to the Emirati youth. No matter how big the challenges are, we can overcome those with unshakable faith and determination.
“His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said we need to celebrate the last oil barrel being exported from Abu Dhabi. This means that our leaders have invested in developing Emirati talent in order to build a self-sustainable society and a diverse economy. We all have to dream big and believe that nothing is impossible,” said Al Harbi.
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