Greenpeace against Arab world’s first nuclear power plant

The first nuclear energy plant in the United Arab Emirates goes online on the Gulf Coast east of Qatar.

In a desert region full of oil, and well unlimited sunshine, Abu Dhabi still plans to go ahead and build a nuclear energy site despite the risks. Remember Japan? And Greenpeace, which runs an active unit in the Arab world and Middle East, called Greenpeace MENA, isn’t thrilled about the development. (They weren’t thrilled about Jordan going nuclear as well, in 2011. That seems to be off the table for now.)

After seeing the lack of Middle East oversight of dangerous chemicals in Beirut, some groups like Greenpeace worry about the dangers of a nuclear Arab world. The United Arab Emirates  will become the first Arab country to produce nuclear energy when commercial operations start at the $24.4 Billion USD Barakah nuclear power plant in 2020.

Until 2006, the six oil-producing states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had been vocally opposed to nuclear power in the Gulf, however, as Iran’s nuclear ambitions advanced, the position changed.

Once all four of Barakah’s reactors are operational in 2025, the plant will provide the UAE with 5.6GW of power generation capacity – about one quarter of the country’s anticipated energy requirements.

Greenpeace believes that this action will further deplete natural resources such as water, which is very scarce in the United Arab Emirates.

Currently desalination is looked to as a viable option, but creating it is energy intense. Creating a nuclear reactor to run desalination is much like a snake biting its own tail.

The plant in Abu Dhabi was set to open in 2017 but its start-up was delayed for what officials say were “safety requirements” according to the BBC.

The UAE is oil rich but despite that plans for Barakah to meet ts energy needs, as the region of seven emirates adopts more sustainable energy sources.

Two weeks ago the UAE sent a mission to Mars, another scientific first for the Gulf nation.

A threat to peace? 

The UAE also has plans to invest in solar, putting into question the logic of the Barakah nuclear plant. Solar power is cleaner, cheaper, 100% renewable and makes a lot more sense in a region plagued by terrorism and political problems over oil and wealth. See solar energy at Masdar City.


Solar energy farm at Masdar

The BBC reports that “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.”

Greenpeace says they “condemn the start-up of unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, located in the Al Dhafrah Region of Abu Dhabi, as a wasteful investment in the wrong technology that will only deplete the scarce water resources of the Emirates.

Established in 2016, the Nawah Energy Company plans on running 4 nuclear energy units, the first nuclear energy plant in the United Arab Emirates.

Nawah will generate up to 5,600 megawatts of energy from the 4 units at Barakah, supplying approximately 25% of the UAE’s electricity requirements.

Julien Jreissati, programme manager at Greenpeace Middle East and North Africa, commented: “Nuclear energy is not the energy of the future, and definitely not the solution. With it we are leaving our future generations with nothing but a toxic legacy of radioactive and dangerous nuclear waste”.

He continued: ”The UAE has been a regional leader in developing and investing in cheap, safe and green renewable energy such as solar. This innovative country should keep its focus on capitalising on its abundant and generous sun instead of “betting” on the nuclear race. After the legacy of Fukushima and the high price Japan had to pay for relying on nuclear power, countries around the world – like Germany-  are opting for phasing-out nuclear energy not the other way around.”

Building new nuclear plants is more expensive and takes longer than building renewable energy plants, Greenpeace argues.

Building a nuclear plant in a water scarce country is just a bad and dangerous investment that will compete with the UAE people on accessing much needed water resources, the organization points out. In a region that has been prone to conflicts, the reactor also poses considerable safety risk to the people. 

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