GCC remains firm on building nuclear power plants

Badr Jafar
The commitment of Gulf states to developing their own nuclear power capacity remains,” according to an expert.

“The expectation may have been that Japan’s Fukushima disaster 16 months ago would have dampened the development of the Gulf’s nuclear ambitions,” Badr Jafar, President of Crescent Petroleum, said.

“However, it is now clear that the commitment of Gulf states to developing their own nuclear power capacity remains,” Jafar said, citing to the global response to Fukushima and its influence on the Gulf region.

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan on 11th March 2011 caused a widespread reassessment of the potential dangers associated with nuclear power. An immediate response from the Japanese and German governments mean that nuclear output in those countries halved, then dropped by a quarter year on year in 2011; with Japanese nuclear output falling to zero in the first half of 2012. Following the disaster, anti-nuclear sentiment has become palpable throughout the world with official proposals to reduce nuclear use or become nuclear-free becoming commonplace.

And yet, actual use of nuclear power generation has shifted less than might be expected: global nuclear power generation only fell 4.3% year on year in 2011, back to levels last seen in the early 2000s. Apart from Germany and Japan, only the USA had a material reduction in nuclear output, and for reasons other than government policy. Nuclear generation in all of the BRIC nations actually increased, as did output in other countries with reliance on nuclear such as France, South Korea, the UK and Canada.

While global nuclear retrenchment may be less dramatic than is sometimes portrayed, the new concerns around nuclear have directly affected the Gulf region. For instance, in February this year the Kuwaiti government decided to abandon its nuclear power programme that had aimed to build four reactors by 2022. The Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research cited the Fukushima Daiichi disaster as the fundamental reason for cancelling the programme, though the difficulty of finding a suitable nuclear repository may also have been a factor.

Nevertheless, Kuwait’s reticence towards nuclear power has not affected other Gulf States: the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all continue to pursue nuclear power programmes.

In the UAE the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) has received approval to begin groundwork preparation on the future site of what could be the first nuclear reactors in the Arab world: Braka Units 1 and 2. The company is now waiting for final approval to start construction. Fukushima did have some impact – ENEC was forced to redesign Braka 1 and 2 to increase safety resilience against earthquakes, tsunamis and power outages – but it did not stop development. The UAE is still keeping to its larger plans to have Braka 1 and 2 as the first of four proposed reactors due to be completed by 2020 at an estimated cost of $20 billion.

In June last year, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to build sixteen nuclear reactors by 2030, at an estimated cost of $112 billion. KACARE, responsible for Saudi’s nuclear development planning, has said that it plans to have two reactors built by 2020 and to add approximately two per year thereafter to 2030.Qatar, meanwhile, has signed deals with France and Russia for training, R&D, construction and operational assistance with Qatar’s nuclear power programme, which seeks to develop up to 5.4 GW of nuclear capacity by 2036.

“The world’s commitment to nuclear power has largely survived Fukushima intact,” Badr Jafar, said.

“The Gulf region is no different with development plans continuing, albeit more cautiously,” Jafar, said.
“The strategic benefits of energy supply diversification away from oil and gas have been deemed to outweigh the cost and security implications of nuclear. While such diversification is likely to offer benefits it is essential that regional policymakers not neglect oil and gas industry investment as a result. Nuclear is only ever likely to supplement, not replace the region’s core oil and gas energy system.”

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