While the U.S. prematurely chases renewable energies and alternative fuels (and feverishly changes its light bulbs), much of the rest of the world is working on realistic plans to meet their energy needs in the coming years. Brazil aggressively explores for oil off its coast. China and India add coal and nuclear plants as fast as possible. And now the United Arab Emirates is full-spead ahead with ambitious nuclear-power plans:
The United Arab Emirates’ $41 billion nuclear program, aimed at resolving an impending shortage of electrical generating capacity, is gaining support from Western nations, suggesting a major shift in focus in the oil-rich region from security to business opportunities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency projects more than half of the world’s 439 reactors in use in 2007 will be retired by 2030. Although most of these retirements will be in Europe, the majority of the new reactors will be built in the Far East, with substantial new construction also in the Middle East and South Asia.
Alan McDonald, head of the Program Coordination Group at the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Energy, said nuclear power companies will be attracted to projects in the Middle East because they will be tendered by oil-rich governments and last longer.
“Investment is more attractive to power companies if they can get direct government investments, government-backed loans and long-term electricity sales contracts with the government,” McDonald said.
The U.A.E. hopes to build three nuclear reactors to generate power to meet a projected rise in electricity demand to more than 40 gigawatts by 2020 from below 19GW at present, according to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp., the body charged with implementing the program.
The first reactor is scheduled to come onstream by 2017, under the guidance of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and ENEC will be governed by the U.A.E.’s independent regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation. ENEC envisages the safety-related concrete, the first step of the building process, will be poured in 2012.
For the nuclear industry and its personnel, the U.A.E. project is huge.
“As many as 2,300 nuclear scientists, technicians and support staff will be needed to run the U.A.E.’s proposed three-reactor civil nuclear power program within the next decade,” Mahmoud Nasreddine, an adviser to the secretary-general of the League of Arab States, an intergovernmental organization, said at a recent GCC Nuclear Summit in Dubai.
Other Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have already taken their first steps toward building nuclear power plants, signing memoranda of understanding with nuclear countries. Whereas the U.A.E. nuclear power plant is independent and will only service the emirates’ needs, other GCC countries have yet to decide whether their nuclear power plants should provide energy on a national, sub-regional or regional basis.