Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Abu Dhabi's Nuclear Power Plant Folly

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Abu Dhabi's Nuclear Power Plant Folly

Article excerpt

THE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

On December 28, 2009, Abu Dhabi awarded a contract1 to build, operate, and transfer a 5,600 MW nuclear power plant composed of four reactors of 1,400 megawatt (MW) each to a consortium of South Korean firms.2 The firms are led by Korea Electric Power Corporation and include Hyundai Engineering and Construction as well as Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction Company. The project is to be completed in three phases between 2017 and 2020. Its estimated cost is reported between $20 and $40 billion.

In contradiction, Abu Dhabi has been simultaneously involved in two projects that are the antithesis of nuclear energy in terms of safety, environmental protection, and the promotion of renewable energy alternatives. The first is construction of the futuristic Masdar project. The second is becoming the secretariat headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). In what follows is a description of the two projects.

CONTRADICTION I: THE MASDAR PROJECT

In February 2008, Abu Dhabi announced a futuristic environmentally friendly project called "Masdar,"3 the Arabic word for "source." Costing $22 billion, the Masdar project includes the construction of a six square kilometer zero carbon, zero waste, and a 100 percent renewable energy-powered city, called Masdar City, for about 50,000 residents specializing in the research and application of renewable energy and sustainable technologies. The electricity for Masdar City will be generated by solar power. Drinking water will be provided through a solarpowered desalination plant. Landscaping and agriculture will be irrigated with treated wastewater.4 A part of the Masdar project involves the making of hydrogen power commercially viable. To that end, Masdar is developing in Abu Dhabi a 500 MW hydrogen-fired power plant.5

CONTRADICTION II: HOSTING IRENA'S SECRETARIAT HEADQUARTERS

Abu Dhabi's decision to build the Masdar project may have been driven by its eagerness to become the first city in the Middle East to host the headquarters of an international organization. The Masdar project was announced in February 2008, just a few months prior to the International Renewable Energy Agency's (IRENA) establishment in January 2009. A well-orchestrated campaign by Abu Dhabi offered IRENA a package Abu Dhabi's decision to build the Masdar project may have been driven by its eagerness to become the first city in the Middle East to host the headquarters of an international organization. The Masdar project was announced in February 2008, just a few months prior to the International Renewable Energy Agency's (IRENA) establishment in January 2009. A well-orchestrated campaign by Abu Dhabi offered IRENA a package

In December 2009, five months after becoming IRENA's secretariat headquarter city, Abu Dhabi announced its four-reactor nuclear power plant. The emirate's decision to build not one, two, or three, but a four-reactor power plant was the antithesis of the Masdar project's ideals and a betrayal of IRENA's principles, as appears in its mission statement: "To promote the widespread and increased adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy. IRENA's Member States pledge to advance renewables in their own national policies and programs, and to promote, both domestically and through international cooperation, the transition to a sustainable and secure energy supply."7

IGNORING WHAT HISTORY HAS TAUGHT

The lessons from the disasters at Three Mile Island8 in the United States in 1979 and at Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986,9 the scores of radiation incidents since the 1940s,10 and the challenge of safe disposal of spent reactor fuel all seem to have been overlooked in the decision to develop nuclear energy.11

The decision to build a four-reactor plant is particularly disconcerting because it is oblivious to the fact that environmentally friendly and safe technologies for harnessing the sun, wind, and other renewable energy sources to generate electricity on a commercial scale are already available. …

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