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UAE & the future of nuclear plants


Dr. Haifa AlMaashi

Director, Geo-strategic Affairs Division

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The media controversy following Iran- The P5+1 and EU nuclear agreement on a joint plan over details of the nuclear agreement has highlighted many issues in the region. Among those was UAE move to get peaceful nuclear energy which is totally opposite to nuclear ambitions of Iran. The four nuclear reactors in Baraka are the beginning of a new path for UAE in generating electric power. However, many western and eastern countries have started this way but the nuclear concerns remained the major reason that make them reluctant to embrace nuclear facilities, especially most of those countries lack to basic, well-established scientific grounds that qualify them to break into this field which full of potential risks. However, short and long terms benefits and services provided by such nuclear facilities overcome the potential negatives of peaceful nuclear reactors mainly built for electricity generation so those negatives have very low percentage of occurrence. But this percentage may happen when it is too late to avoid a nuclear accident. Chernobyl and Fukushima may represent real examples of potential negatives of peaceful nuclear reactors that were mainly built for power generation. This raises concerns that should be countered to avoid them in the future. Perhaps those accidents emphasize the need for preventive measures that included in the precautionary measures taken during construction of a nuclear facility. While Fukushima disaster was caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami which are environmental causes beyond human capacity, Chernobyl was the result of human carelessness, from the poor administration to the procedures that lacked harmony. Those reactors were mainly built to supply power, a necessary move for every country especially in the light of the rapid growth that runs in parallel lines with the significant rise of population. Nuclear reactor, therefore, is an ideal solution to provide power, as 1% of Uranium produce tremendous amount of power. But, it is important to take wide, long-term precautions, otherwise the double losses resulting from penetrating safety limits may be reflected on the expected value of such huge projects. UAE has adopted the highest standards concerning construction of the four nuclear reactors in Baraka since the start of the project in 2009, in terms of organizational, construction or administrative elements. This prompted many international observers to consider UAE nuclear project as an international model in nuclear safety and adoption of peaceful purposes of nuclear energy. However, during the start of the project a few years ago, most of the media controversy at the international level has focused about the possibilities and capabilities of UAE in disposal of nuclear waste so that they are not misused. The major media focused concern then was turning nuclear waste into nuclear fuel that can be used in making nuclear weapons. International media had little focus on safety of UAE's nuclear facilities as UAE's attention has largely been focused on this aspect. Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011 has been considered by some as a similar example of Chernobyl, albeit it was smaller and less dangerous. However, these two accidents reveal the most important weaknesses that must be deeply studied and solved by UAE as a future incubator of a peaceful nuclear project. The most in important of these points may be represented in avoiding young administration of nuclear reactors. Despite UAE's interest in qualifying many young Emiratis in this field in order to become responsible of management of these reactors in the future, it is important to support them by native consultants to help them in making appropriate decisions when there is a potential danger. The major reason of Chernobyl accident was that it was administrated by recently graduated youth. Despite their qualifications, but they lacked ability of making appropriate serious decisions, both, technical or administrative. On the other hand, there is another point concerning the direct communication between the reactor's administration and senior leaders which help in quick decision making in time of danger. This element has been considered by many as a key factor of preventing worsening of Fukushima accident in Japan. The rapid and direct communication resulted in quick decision-making over reducing the high-pressure in the first reactor which resulted in a slight leak of radiation that easily controlled by evacuating the location and stop the reactor. But that procedure was sufficient to prevent a nuclear disaster similar to that of Chernobyl where radiations reached so high levels that exceeded thousands of kilometers and reached as far as Japan and the United States. Finally, it is important to concentrate on the designs of nuclear reactors. Fukushima has revealed many defects in the designs of buildings which failed to face extreme geographical conditions in Japan such as earthquake and storms. Tsunami waves reached 14 meters high while the safety wall surrounding the facility was lower so that it could not resist the tidal waves that swept the facility. The start of work in Baraka reactors in 2017 is considered as strong and new move by UAE in the field of peaceful nuclear industries. It is important to enhance preventive aspect through regular review and evaluation by both UAE Nuclear Energy Corporation and Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation before and after the start of the reactors. This will emphasize the typical image of safety and peacefulness of UAE's nuclear program.

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