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  1. #1
    Oct 2004
    2564 Post(s)
    21 Thread(s)

    A nuclear powered Middle East - good or bad for the world?

    The United Arab Emirates has launched operations at the Arab world's first nuclear power plant, on the Gulf coast just east of Qatar.

    Nuclear fission has begun in one of four reactors at the Barakah plant, which uses South Korean technology.

    The plant was expected to open in 2017 but the start-up was repeatedly delayed because of various safety issues.

    The oil-rich UAE wants Barakah to meet a quarter of its energy needs, as it adopts more sustainable energy sources.

    Just two weeks ago the UAE sent a probe on a mission to Mars - another high-profile scientific first for the Gulf nation.

    The UAE is also investing heavily in solar power - a plentiful energy source in the Gulf. Some energy experts question the logic of Barakah - which means "blessing" in Arabic. They argue that solar power is cleaner, cheaper and makes more sense in a region plagued by political tensions and terrorism.

    Last year Qatar called the Barakah plant a "flagrant threat to regional peace and environment". Qatar is a bitter regional rival of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

    Across the Gulf lies Iran, hostile to the UAE, and subject to US sanctions because of its controversial nuclear programme.

    Dr Paul Dorfman, head of the international Nuclear Consulting Group, wrote last year that "the tense geopolitical environment in the Gulf makes nuclear a more controversial issue in this region than elsewhere, as new nuclear power provides the capability to develop and make nuclear weapons".

    The London-based scientist also highlighted the risk of radioactive pollution in the Gulf.

    UAE leaders hailed the start-up on Saturday as a symbol of the country's scientific progress.

    The Barakah plant was developed by the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) and Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). Energy will be generated by 1,400-megawatt pressurised water reactors, designed in South Korea, called APR-1400.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - the nuclear industry's main oversight body - praised Barakah in a tweet, saying the plant's Unit 1 had "achieved its first criticality" - that is, generation of a controlled fission chain reaction.

    "This is an important milestone towards commercial operations and generating clean energy. IAEA has been supporting [United Arab Emirates] from the beginning of its nuclear power programme."

    The leader of Abu Dhabi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, tweeted his congratulations "marking this milestone in the roadmap for sustainable development".


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  2. #2
    Oct 2004
    2564 Post(s)
    21 Thread(s)
    When countries start dabbling in nuclear energy, eyebrows raise. It's understandable. Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons while allowing countries to pursue civilian nuclear programmes has proven a tough and sometimes unsuccessful balancing act for the global community.

    So when atom-splitting initiatives surface in a region with a history of nuclear secrecy and where whacking missiles into one's enemies is relatively common, it is not just eyebrows that are hoisted, but red flags.

    Right now, warning banners are waving above the Arabian Peninsula, where the United Arab Emirates has loaded fuel rods into the first of four reactors at Barakah - the Arab world's first nuclear power plant.

    Roughly 620 kilometres (388 miles) west, Saudi Arabia is constructing its first research reactor at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

    The UAE has agreed not to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel. It has also signed up to enhanced non-proliferation protocols and even secured a coveted 123 Agreement with the United States that allows for the bilateral sharing of civilian nuclear components, materials and know-how.

    But that has not placated some nuclear energy veterans who question why the Emirates has pushed ahead with nuclear fission to generate electricity when there are far safer, far cheaper renewable options more befitting its sunny climate.

    Like the UAE, Saudi Arabia insists its nuclear ambitions extend no further than civilian energy projects. But unlike its neighbour and regional ally, Riyadh has not officially sworn off developing nuclear weapons.

    The kingdom's de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), has publicly declared his intention to pursue nuclear weapons if Iran gets them first.

    The spectre of the Saudi-Iran Cold War escalating into a nuclear arms race is not beyond the realm of possibility. There are growing concerns over the nuclearisation of the Arabian Peninsula and where it could lead the Gulf and the Middle East - a volatile region that experts warn could be opening itself up to superpower proxy fights on a nuclear scale.

    Saudi Arabia's nuclear ambitions date back to at least 2006, when the kingdom started exploring nuclear power options as part of a joint programme with other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

    More recently, the kingdom laced its nuclear plans into MBS's "Vision 2030" blueprint to diversify the country's economy away from oil.

    Nuclear energy, the kingdom argues, would allow it to export crude it currently consumes for domestic energy needs, generating more income for state coffers while developing a new high-tech industry to create jobs for its youthful workforce.

    But if a bountiful economic harvest is the goal, nuclear energy is a poor industry to seed compared with renewables like solar and wind.

    "Every state has the right to determine its energy mix. The problem is this: nuclear costs are enormous," Paul Dorfman, honorary senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University College London and founder and chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, told Al Jazeera. "Renewables are maybe between one-fifth and one-seventh the cost of nuclear."

    Utility-scale, average unsubsidised lifetime costs for solar photovoltaic were about $40 per megawatt-hour (MWh) in 2019, compared with $155 per MWh for nuclear energy, according to an analysis by financial advisory and asset manager Lazard.

    "There are no economic or energy policy or industrial reasons to build a nuclear power plant," Mycle Schneider, convening lead author and the publisher of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, told Al Jazeera. "If countries decide to build a nuclear power plant anyway, then we have to discuss other issues that are actually the drivers for those projects."


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