The oil-rich Arab emirate along with the rest of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would ultimately like to get 25% of their energy from nuclear resources. By Stanley Reed Translated by N. Bougeant
Abu Dhabi may be one of the richest and most important oil producers in the world, but the emirate (which is the mainstay of the United Arab Emirates) has nonetheless discouraged it from exploiting other energy resources. The country, ruled by a sheikh and with several hundred billion dollars in its financial reserves, has already committed to spending $15 billion on renewable energy technologies, including founding an example of a city with low carbon emissions. carbon and called Masdar.
Now, Abu Dhabi is seriously considering turning to nuclear energy. David Scott, an Abu Dhabi state official, says the UAE would like to eventually get 25% of its energy resources from nuclear power. This could require the installation of six or more nuclear power plants, at a cost of $5 billion or more each day. The prospect of projects of such magnitude could spark fierce competition between builders of nuclear power plants such as Westinghouse in the United States and Areva (CEPFi.PA) in France. UAE officials hope to soon sign a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States.
Why would such a country, which happens to have the fifth largest oil reserves in the world, be interested in nuclear energy? Like most Gulf States, the UAE has seen a sharp increase in its domestic electricity demand in recent years, due to the emergence of booming industries such as aluminum smelting…not to mention fact that this state enjoys energy that does not cost much to its inhabitants, thus encouraging their consumption.
A SHORTAGE OF NATURAL GAS
Like most Gulf countries, Abu Dhabi did not anticipate the rapid growth in energy use and is currently experiencing a shortage of natural gas, the preferred fuel. to generate energy. Moreover, Abu Dhabi has serious aspirations to become a global energy center that would create very good jobs even after its oil reserves run out. “The desire to benefit from nuclear energy trumps pure economics,” says Leila Benali, director of the Middle East and Africa sections of Cambridge Energy Research Associates in Paris. “This desire is fueled by more strategic and geopolitical factors. »
The UAE already depends on gas imports from Qatar for 60% of its electricity generation, but it is not at all certain that Qatar can supply the UAE with the gas necessary for its annual growth in energy consumption, which is estimated to be 9%. What’s more, low gas supplies are forcing other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Dubai (the second largest in the United Arab Emirates) to burn oil and other liquids to produce oil. electricity, by reducing the reserves available for export.
“There is concern that the Middle East is more and more clearly in shortage, in severe shortage, of energy, and in particular of natural gas”, indicated, in a recent report, Neil McMahon,Faced with these three challenges, the UAE has for some time thought about how to meet its need for electricity, which some forecasts will double by 2020. Analysts have calculated that even if the country multiplies efforts to develop solar and wind resources, the latter would provide only a maximum of 4% to 5% of its maximum generating capacity, which is estimated at more than 40,000 megawatts. Thus, the country’s planners came to the conclusion that, for both environmental and economic reasons, “the use of nuclear energy was too important not to be considered,” notes Scott, executive director of economic affairs. of the Executive Affairs Authority, Abu Dhabi.
THREAT OF A PROLIFERATION CONTROVERSY
Obviously, it will be extremely difficult to install even a single nuclear power plant that will be commissioned by 2020, given the obstacles that the country must overcome. First, even though the UAE is not a heavyweight from a military point of view and is an ally of the West, the leaders of this country know, judging by the political battle raging over the attempts of the company Dubai Ports World to appropriate American ports, that any foray by an Arab country into the nuclear arena is likely to cause controversy. No matter how big the differences are between the countries that make up the UAE,
In a bid to allay some concerns, the UAE has pledged to adopt a succession of safeguards and principles, including “the highest standards of non-proliferation”, they said in a statement. Hamad Al Kaabi, the country’s permanent representative to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, says the agreement with the United States, currently being negotiated, “does not allow any transfer of sensitive technology” or “extremely enriched materials”, and which could possibly be used in the construction of weapons.
However, Kaabi, a nuclear physics engineer who was trained in the United States, says his country is determined to add nuclear energy to its growing panoply of energy tricks. “Obviously, our country needs such a program,” he continues. “The need and the reasons for it will not change. »