After the nuclear disaster in Fukashima, Japan last year, many countries are turning their backs on nuclear energy. So why is the UAE embracing it?
By 2017, the first of four nuclear reactors will have been built in the UAE, heralding the start of a nuclear age for the country. And yet following the Fukushima disaster, which took place in March 2011, the potential dangers of nuclear energy have forced many governments around the world to review their nuclear energy policies.
In Germany for example the Merkel coalition decided that the national nuclear programme should be done away with altogether and all stations would be closed by as 2022.
Meanwhile China, which led the way in terms of a nuclear renaissance in the last decade, suspended all approvals for the building of nuclear plants.
In fact, most of the nations around the world which had previously embraced nuclear power conducted new safety (assessments of their plants. And it’s hardly surprising given that the Fukashima disaster could have had damaging effects which will last for generations. So why exactly has the UAE chosen to continue building its nuclear power plan?
The fact is that the economy of the UAE is growing rapidly and as businesses expand they require energy. Nuclear energy is therefore essential to the economic development of the country.
Hamad Alkaabi, the permanent representative for the UAE to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), recently reiterated the country’s commitment to establishing a nuclear programme.
“We have committed ourselves to using peaceful nuclear energy, in abidance with the highest standards of safety and security, and have adopted a detailed policy in 2008 for the development of a peaceful nuclear energy programme,” he said in a statement at the IAEA’s latest conference in Vienna in September 2011.
However he also stressed the UAE’s intention to abide by the highest safety standards. “The national [UAE nuclear] policy endorses principles of complete transparency, a commitment to the highest standards of non-proliferation and full cooperation with the IAEA as fundamental principles by which all nuclear activities and programmes should be governed.”
The UAE is not the only country which is still pro-nuclear energy. The US, France and India still believe it is the way forward, citing the fact that atomic energy is one of the most efficient and least carbon-inducing ways to meet their needs.
These countries also recognise that atomic energy is important because it provides a solution to reliance on gas reserves, which are fast depleting around the world.
In 2008, the UAE Government conducted an extensive study into the nation’s growing energy demands and its capacity to produce electricity. It found that by 2020, local energy needs will have doubled to more than 40,000 megawatts, which is three times the global average. The natural gas supply here will provide only half of this.
In Abu Dhabi alone, “electricity demand growth is amongst the fastest growing in the world today, even faster than China in percentage terms,” according to Keith Miller, Director of Planning and Studies at Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company (ADWEC). What’s more, he expects the demand “to continue to grow”.
In a presentation on economic development and growth in electricity demand, during the MEED conference last November, Mr Miller noted that there is a “high correlation between electricity demand and economic activity”. In other words, a growth in demand for energy is usually a sign that an economy is doing well and inconsistent or poor energy supplies will stifle economic growth, and therefore the growth of the country as a whole.
DIMINISHING GAS RESERVES
Another issue the UAE is currently trying to address is the need to curb its reliance on gas. According to the US Energy Information Administration, gas represents more than 99 per cent of thefuel-mix’ used to produce electricity in this country.
In other words, electricity in the UAE is almost totally produced by gas. And while oil supplies are plentiful in this part of the world, oil is hardly ever used to produce electricity. Instead coal, natural gas or nuclear energy are used.
With 198.5 trillion cubic feet, the UAE has the fifth-largest gas reserves in the world, after Russia, Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Gas consumption is increasing at a rate of 11 per cent a year here and consumption rates are expected to double in the next decade, due to the demographic growth and an increased demand from energy intensive industries such as petrochemicals and aluminium.
As a result, the country has an urgent need to develop additional sources of energy.It is with this in mind that the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) was established in 2009. Its mandate was to develop a civil nuclear programme delivering safe, clean, efficient and reliable nuclear energy. ENEC plans to build four 1,400-megawatts civil nuclear power units, with the first expected to start operating in 2017 and the other three scheduled to be completed and operational by 2020.
ENEC has selected Braka, in the western region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, on the Arabian Gulf, 53 kilometres west-southwest of the city of Ruwais, as the preferred site for the first four plants.
A consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) was chosen as the prime contractor to design, build and help operate up to four power stations using the APR1400 reactor technology.
The contract with KEPCO, which had to submit a 9,000 pages-long document to get the green light from the UAE nuclear regulator, is estimated to be worth $20 billion (Dhs73.5 billion).
Besides providing an additional form of energy, the new nuclear facilities will also create jobs. “Investment in nuclear energy will also drive the growth of a major, high-tech industry in the UAE and provide high-value jobs for decades to come,” according to an ENEC representative.
“The programme will create many jobs for residents and stimulate economic development in the region. Over the life of the programme, ENEC will support and invest in the Western Region community and the economy to support its sustainable growth.”