Dubai grew and grew: without any kind of environmental foresight, the Emirate built the tallest this and the biggest that, showing off its engineering might. And despite some efforts to learn from its neighbor’s mistakes, Abu Dhabi is heading in the same direction with developments such as the new Ferrari theme park. Now everyone in the UAE is beginning to suffer the upshot of such developmental hubris. Running out of energy, but desperate for water, the Emirates are going nuclear to power their desalination plants.
The New York Times reports:
Like a Middle Eastern version of Las Vegas, Dubai’s biggest challenge is water, which may be everywhere in the gulf but is undrinkable without desalination plants. These produce emissions of carbon dioxide that have helped give Dubai and the other United Arab Emirates one of the world’s largest carbon footprints. They also generate enormous amounts of heated sludge, which is pumped back into the sea.
And while they desalinate the equivalent of four billion bottles of water every day, they only have a four-day back up plan. This is particularly dangerous since an oil spill or algae bloom could easily compromise their water supply.
“Today, the gulf’s salinity levels have risen to 47,000 parts per million, from 32,000 about 30 years ago,” according to the paper, which Christophe Tourenq, a senior researcher at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Dubai explained is harmful to the gulf’s marine environment.
In response to these problems, Abu Dhabi recently committed to building underground aquifers, but there is still the issue of energy. With peak oil looming and the emirates running short, they are grasping in whatever direction they can to avoid a waterless future.
Their immediate target is to pursue nuclear energy as a solution. By 2017, Abu Dhabi wants to have four plants to satisfy nearly one quarter of its energy requirements. Here’s the what NY Times discovered about that:
But from a sustainability perspective, nuclear power makes little sense, said Mohamed Raouf, the environmental director at the Gulf Research Center. While it produces clean energy, “it’s not renewable, there’s a very big problem with waste, and uranium supplies are projected to run out in 40 to 50 years — around the same time as oil,” he said. “So there’s little logic unless you really want to develop it for political and security reasons.”
Since the sun shouldn’t peak anytime soon, hopefully a good solar-powered solution will soon emerge. In the meantime, Abu Dhabi’s campaign to switch off and reduce energy and water consumption is an excellent, albeit belated step in the right direction. Let’s hope the message sinks in and spreads.
More about water and desalination: