The Arab world's atomic energy revolution

Barakah will soon provide a quarter of the UAE's domestic energy.Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant. Courtesy Barakah
Barakah will soon provide a quarter of the UAE's domestic energy.Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant. Courtesy Barakah

For decades, a large part of the GCC's success has been linked to its vast contribution to global energy markets. On Tuesday, the Emirates opened a new chapter in this story, showing just how much the region has changed since its oil reserves were discovered in the first half of the 20th century.

The UAE's Barakah facility, the Arab world's only nuclear energy plant, is now producing a steady stream of electricity at its 1400-megawatt Unit 1. This is the first of four sections, with the second set to open later this year. Building at the remaining two is 94 and 89 per cent complete respectively. When the $25 billion project, which was launched in 2008, is fully operational, it will begin a lifespan of at least 60 years, producing a quarter of the country's energy.

The plant's opening is the latest in a series of scientific achievements for the Arab world. AFP photo
The plant's opening is the latest in a series of scientific achievements for the Arab world. AFP photo

Barakah has two principles at its core: safety and transparency

Barakah is another in a series of scientific firsts for the Arab world, happening weeks after the UAE's Hope Probe entered the Mars atmosphere in February and Tunisia launched its first domestically made satellite, Challenge-1, in March. This has all happened amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a sign that the region is growing a resilient culture of the pursuit of science.

It is also a success of international co-operation, something that has proven its value time and time again, particularly during the past year. Throughout the project, South Korea has been on hand to lend its expertise through a partnership with the Korea Electric Power Corporation.

The Barakah plant proves that nuclear power has a place in the 21st century, particularly as a means of producing electricity that does not contribute to global warming. When it reaches full capacity, its clean energy will reduce the nation's output of carbon dioxide by 21 million tonnes, a reduction that is equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars from the country's roads.

The project adds a new scientific dimension to the UAE's economic diversification strategy. A nuclear sector is a mark of an advanced nation. Across the world, the most developed states have been harnessing its strategic benefits not just for eco-friendly power, but for a sovereign source of energy that can be used to power submarines, ships and shore up a nation's electricity expenditure at times of market instability. Domestic nuclear capability empowers all citizens. Women represent 40 per cent of the workforce at the UAE's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation and young scientists will have a new home to pursue their dreams.

Barakah has two other principles at its core: safety and transparency. Whether protection at the site itself, or protocols to deal with radioactive waste, the facility uses the latest technology to ensure that atomic energy’s benefit is not clouded by risk. It is deemed one of the safest nuclear programmes in the world.

We will save the planet by embracing, not shying away from innovative approaches to the climate crisis. With the Arab world’s first nuclear plant now online, the region is one step closer to a carbon-free future.

Updated: April 8, 2021 11:25 AM

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