In a bold move that will reshape Gulf energy policy for decades, the UAE has brought transparency, disclosure, and marketplace practices to the all-too-sensitive world of nuclear energy in the Middle East.
The UAE signed a series of agreements with South Korea by which the latter will build and maintain four nuclear stations at a cost of $20 billion. The deal was signed during a recent visit of the South Korean president to the UAE.
The Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), one of the world's leading nuclear power organisations, is in charge of the plan. KEPCO already operates 20 nuclear power plants.
To supervise the peaceful nuclear programme, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan has created the Emirates Nuclear Energy Commission (ENEC). Mohamed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, appointed the ENEC board of directors.
For some years, the UAE government has been seeking a way of meeting increased demand for electricity in the country. It is estimated that the consumption of energy in the UAE will double in the next decade. Therefore, a clean and renewable form of energy was needed to sustain the UAE's high rates of economic growth.
ENEC Chairman Mohamed Al-Hammadi says that the UAE has hired 57 nuclear experts of various nationalities to follow up operations and provide technical assistance for the four nuclear power plants. The UAE is relying on alternative sources of energy to boost economic growth, he adds.
With its entry into the field of nuclear power, the UAE has blasted a new trail in the region, offering an example for all countries in the use of peaceful nuclear energy. For years, the matter of nuclear energy has been taboo. It was approached often with hesitation and sometimes by deceit. Countries that needed nuclear energy refrained from developing it, while others pursued secret programmes that were viewed with suspicion.
In launching a peaceful nuclear programme and keeping it transparent, the UAE aims to serve as a model for others. The UAE will be importing nuclear fuel via the open market and also selling any fuel it may produce. It aims to be a net exporter of clean energy in the regional market.
According to the World Nuclear Association, demand on energy in Gulf Cooperation Council countries is increasing by 10 per cent every year. GCC countries currently produce nearly 23 gigawatts of energy, with a growth rate of 7.5 per cent. With the growing demand on energy for desalination purposes, Gulf countries have to explore alternative means of clean and renewable energy. In the UAE, as well as in other Gulf countries, nuclear power would be of great help in desalination projects.
The UAE is seeking to control its emissions of greenhouse gases.
As it embarks on ambitious development plans, especially in Abu Dhabi, the country needs to develop clean energy sources. Demand on energy is increasing as the population grows and industry becomes more sophisticated.
Electricity produced from nuclear power is 75 cheaper than that produced from gas.