UAE Starts Operation of Arab World’s First Nuclear Power Reactor. The United Arab Emirates switched on the Arab world’s first commercial nuclear power plant after loading fuel and conducting comprehensive tests, the prime minister said. With the start-up of the Barakah reactor, the UAE — a seven-member federation that includes commercial hub Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, where the reactor is located — joins a club of 30 countries that can generate nuclear energy. The country’s watchdog had given the go-ahead to run the plant in February. Built and run by a joint venture with Korea Electric Power Corp., the Barakah plant can now move toward full commercial operation over the next several months. Other Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also moving toward adopting nuclear power despite questions about cost and safety. The UAE is aiming to have the four civilian reactors in operation by 2023. The plants, located along a sparsely populated strip of desert on the Persian Gulf coast, are estimated to cost a total $25 billion. The government expects them to produce as much as 5.6 gigawatts of energy once they’re fully commissioned, or about a fifth of the country’s current installed generating capacity.
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“The UAE’s investment in these four nuclear reactors risks further destabilizing the volatile Gulf region, damaging the environment and raising the possibility of nuclear proliferation,” Paul Dorfman, a researcher at University College London’s Energy Institute, wrote in an op-ed in March. Noting that the U.A.E. had other energy options, including “some of the best solar energy resources in the world,” he added that “the nature of Emirate interest in nuclear may lie hidden in plain sight — nuclear weapon proliferation.”
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Paul Dorfman, an honorary senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University College London and founder and chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, has criticised the Barakah reactors’ “cheap and cheerful” design that he says cuts corners on safety. Dorfman authored a report (PDF) last year detailing key safety features Barakah’s reactors lack, such as a “core catcher” to literally stop the core of a reactor from breaching the containment building in the event of a meltdown. The reactors are also missing so-called Generation III Defence-In-Depth reinforcements to the containment building to shield against a radiological release resulting from a missile or fighter jet attack. Both of these engineering features are standard on new reactors built in Europe, says Dorfman.
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