UAE Launches First Nuclear Power Plant In The Arab World Kickstarting A Gulf Nuclear Race

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), has launched the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world kickstarting a nuclear power race in the Gulf States. The Arab Gulf rulers fear that Washington is not a reliable long-term guardian. Generating their own nuclear power may offer an alternative path to retaining a US strategic interest in securing their regimes.

UAE Launches First Nuclear Power Plant In The Arab World
UAE Launches First Nuclear Power Plant In The Arab World Kickstarting A Gulf Nuclear Race

On Saturday, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) successfully started up on Unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi.

The project brings-up issues related to the economic viability of an expensive nuclear power plant.

As a central point of discussion, the project questions the geopolitical importance of a nuclear facility in the restive Middle East region. Here, the tensions heightened after the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani earlier this year.

“We are now another step closer to achieving our goal of supplying up to a quarter of our Nation’s electricity needs and powering its future growth with safe, reliable, and emissions-free electricity,” said ENEC’s chief executive Mohamed Ibrahim Al Hammadi.

Safe Start-up of Unit 1 of Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant Successfully Achieved
Safe Start-up of Unit 1 of Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant Successfully Achieved. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation

With the advancement gained by the start-up of the Barakah nuclear power plant, the UAE becomes the first country in the Arab world, and the 33rd nation globally, to create a nuclear energy plant to generate electricity. ENEC says, this will help the oil-rich emirates to move towards electrification of its energy sector and de-carbonization of its electricity production.

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Rafael Mariano Grossi, who is the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that the agency privileges the UAE and other countries, specifically those who opt for introducing nuclear power. They say it plays a pivotal role in achieving clean and affordable energy and in tackling the Climate Crisis.

However, experts say this first civil nuclear project in the Arab world could spark a nuclear arms race and facilitate nuclear proliferation. Paul Dorfman, Founder and Chair of the non-profit Nuclear Consulting Group wrote:

“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.

It’s worth noting that emergent back-channels exist which may facilitate Gulf states obtaining advanced nuclear fuel cycle enrichment technologies if the decision is made to pursue a military proliferation option.” 

In March 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an CBS interview that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

According an agreement with the United States UAE has denied of possessing any intent to develop domestic enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

Jim Krane, a Wallace S. Wilson Fellow for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute, wrote this year that for the Arab Gulf rulers fear that Washington is not a reliable long-term guardian. Generating their own nuclear power may offer an alternative path to retaining a US strategic interest in securing their regimes.

The nuclear power plant of UAE also questions the economic impacts of pursuing costly nuclear electricity generation while solar power generation could flourish in the region.

The Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC) announced the advancement of contracts to develop the world’s largest solar power plant of 2 gigawatts (GW).

According to Nuclear Consulting Group’s Dorfman, a new nuclear power generational facility can now only be developed with very significant government contribution.

In regard to this matter he said that developing new nuclear technology makes little apparent sense in the Gulf as the place already has some of the best solar energy resources in the world.

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