Abu Dhabi's nuclear dream to get Japanese briefing

The nuclear commissioner in Japan brings the UAE's nuclear authorities advice.

The German chancellor Angela Merkel accepts a report from Klaus Toepfer, the chairman of the Safe Energy Supply Ethics Commission, left, and Matthias Kleiner, the co-chairman, right. Germany is the first major industrialised power to agree to abandon nuclear power by 2022. John MacDougall / AFP
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A member of Japan's nuclear commission is to meet officials in Abu Dhabi tomorrow as the future of nuclear energy returns to the spotlight after Germany's decision to end its use of atomic power by 2022.

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Japan is still trying to contain radiation from the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant that was triggered by an earthquake and tsunami in March. The government is preparing to pay millions of dollars of compensation to people affected by the crisis at the plant.

The episode has triggered a global rethinking of the safety of nuclear energy, and yesterday Germany became the biggest economic power to commit itself to giving up on nuclear power, announcing a phasing out of its plants over the next decade.

The UAE is eager to learn from Japan as the Emirates embarks on a US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) plan to begin producing nuclear power by 2017 using reactors on the coast of the Western Region.

Akira Omoto, a member of Japan's atomic energy commission, the country's nuclear regulator, is to share information about the Fukushima disaster with officials at the separate headquarters of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec), the Abu Dhabi Government-owned company building the UAE's reactors, and the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, the UAE's independent watchdog agency.

Last month, the nuclear regulator instructed Enec to submit the lessons it learnt from the Japanese crisis, and Enec officials say they are already revisiting matters such as how long to cool spent fuel in water in light of the events in Japan.

"It is a very important thing to share as early as possible to take into account both currently operating power plants and also nuclear power plants that are currently under construction," said Yanko Yanev, the head of the nuclear knowledge management unit at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global nuclear watchdog based in Vienna. "Of course they will have to revisit the different safety components of the project, as all countries are doing now."

The UAE and other nations are keen to open nuclear plants even as western countries are closing such facilities or reviewing their use of them to appease fears sparked by the Fukushima crisis.

Yesterday, legislators in Germany confirmed that the country's 17 nuclear power plants would be shut down by 2022. Switzerland is to give up nuclear power by 2034, despite the high cost of replacing it, and all of the EU's 143 nuclear plants are to undergo stress tests starting tomorrow.

Those developments reflect a shift in the global nuclear industry, said Dr Ken Petrunik, Enec's chief programme officer.

"The growth rate [in countries in the Organisation for Co-operation and Development] will roughly match the plants being decommissioned," Dr Petrunik said during a presentation on nuclear power last month. "The nuclear renaissance will occur in countries like China, India and Russia, where they have strong demand growth.

"They will have to take more risks, and they will have to build their plants on time and on budget."

In the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait are in the early stages of planning civil nuclear programmes.

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Saudi Arabia should not back away from nuclear power because of the disaster at the Fukushima plant, the head of the kingdom's electricity regulator said at a conference in Dubai yesterday.

Improved safety measures may make future nuclear power plants more expensive but would be worth the investment to meet growing electricity demand in the kingdom, said Dr Abdullah al Shehri, the governor of the kingdom's electricity authority. Saudi Arabia's installed electricity generating capacity will need to more than double from today's 52 gigawatts to 120GW by 2032, Dr al Shehri said.

"The ship Titanic . was designed with all the safety measures for a ship. And it failed," he said. "Japan gives us insight into looking at the safety measures rather than whether we should pursue nuclear power or not. What happened was worse than the worst case that we expected. What we can do is improve the safety measures. It will add to the cost - but I think nuclear power can be used throughout the world."