Energy & Mining

The Nuclear Option

Nuclear Energy

The UAE is the first country in the MENA region to develop nuclear power, with Abu Dhabi's Barakah nuclear power plant. The Emirate hopes to achieve energy security and embrace alternative sources of energy, ensuring full cooperation and support from the international community.

The fate of the UAE is closely linked to energy. Oil raised it out of poverty, but the recent economic climate has revealed pitfalls in the country’s oil-centric model. Alternative energy sources, including solar power, offer a new path to energy independence. And at the beginning of 2017, the UAE government revealed its strategy to combine renewable, nuclear, and clean energy sources to meet the country’s economic requirements and environmental goals. As put forth in its grand Vision 2021 plan, the government wants to ensure sustainable, balanced social and economic development while preserving the environment.

The UAE’s strong economic growth goes hand in hand with an ever-increasing demand in energy, currently growing at 9% per year, which is three times the global average. The use of additional gas-, oil-, or coal-based power plants to accommodate this additional need, while potentially cheaper, would have strong negative effects on the environment and run counter to the government’s green agenda as outlined in Vision 2021. Renewable sources of energy are receiving investments from the government and private sector, but they are not yet considered powerful enough to cover the growing demand for energy in the Emirates.

Therefore, after building the world’s largest solar power plant, the UAE is now building the Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi. The power plant consists of four reactors, which will be connected to the grid between 2018 and 2020. When fully operational, the power plant will supply a quarter of the Emirates’ energy needs. It is operated under the highest standards of safety and quality with best practices established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Nuclear power fits perfectly into the government’s energy diversification plans with its significantly lower carbon emissions. The use of nuclear energy instead of fossil fuels is expected to reduce the country’s carbon emissions by 12 million tons per year. Economically speaking, while fossil fuel prices can fluctuate significantly depending on outside influences, nuclear power prices are much more stable. Barakah will have state-of-the-art technology and require a highly educated workforce, promoting efforts to achieve higher innovation levels and a knowledge-based economy.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, founded in 2009, was tasked with erecting the first nuclear power plant in the region, while operation and maintenance of the plant was transferred to the Nawah Energy Company. The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation oversees safety procedures.

In an effort to secure the support of the international community, the UAE signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 2000, and the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement in 2003. A detailed commitment to the highest standards of safety and full cooperation with the IAEA are the foundations of this nuclear program. In consideration of its commitment to a nuclear-weapons-free Arabian Peninsula, the UAE consciously forgoes the possibility of domestic uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of nuclear fuel, which makes any non-peaceful use of nuclear energy in the Emirates exceedingly unlikely. Long-term storage regulation and processes are being developed by the UAE’s authorities and will be made into law before the Barakah plant begins operations.

While nuclear power has become increasingly unpopular in many Western countries, nuclear power enjoys popular support from the Emirati population. A majority of the population is in favor of building and operating the plant to satisfy the Emirates’ energy needs, a clear sign of the Emirati population’s willingness to adopt technology to overcome the challenges facing the nation.
Nuclear power is a vital part of the government’s plan to diversify the energy sector, strengthen sustainable development, and lower its carbon footprint. But it will also play an integral part in the long-term development of the Emirates. Staying true to the Emirates’ dedication to innovation, the Barakah plant will serve as a model for other Middle Eastern countries looking at exploring the nuclear option.