Nuclear programme could solve UAE's pollution problem

Comment The UAE nuclear programme may eliminate more than double the minimum estimate of 15 million tonnes a year of carbon dioxide emissions.

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The UAE nuclear programme may eliminate more than double the minimum estimate of 15 million tonnes a year of carbon dioxide emissions we calculated earlier this month according to a study by the Abu Dhabi government, yet the two predictions are not seriously at odds. Our lower number was based on nuclear power replacing gas-fired generation. Yet, as we noted, Abu Dhabi's nuclear reactors are actually more likely to displace oil as a fuel for making electricity.

This is one of the biggest advantage for the Emirates of developing nuclear power. It will reverse the nation's recent trend towards more oil use in its domestic power sector, as its gas supplies become more strained, not only due to rising demand for electricity, but also by competing demands for gas in enhanced oil recovery and for use as petrochemicals feedstock. The UAE produces 30 per cent of its power by burning oil, not yet as much as Saudi Arabia, where oil fuels more than half the kingdom's electricity supply. With nuclear power, there is no need for the UAE to follow its neighbour down that route, which involves foregoing revenue from oil it would otherwise have been able to export and polluting the air breathed by its residents.

Incinerating oil releases as much as 75 per cent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as burning natural gas, due to the latter's higher ratio of hydrogen to carbon. That accounts for much of the difference in the two estimates. The rest may be due to the government study's failure to take into account "full cycle" carbon emissions, such as those involved in building and fuelling nuclear plants.

The bottom line, however, is that the UAE will reduce its carbon footprint a lot within a decade, and by more if it continues to embrace nuclear technology for peaceful uses such as generating electricity. tcarlisle@thenational.ae

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