Experts insist nuclear power is key for future energy

ABU DHABI // Despite some concerns over the safety, cost and environmental issues associated with nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima incident in 2011, experts are clear that nuclear energy has a major role to play in the future global energy mix.

The UAE, they say, could act as a bridge between developed states and emerging countries in the safe spread of nuclear power.

“I’m a firm believer that nuclear energy has a critical role to play in meeting future energy demands,” said Ken Petrunik, adviser to the chief executive of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation.

“Public support is a key factor in making a decision to going ahead with nuclear power and 80 per cent of the population in the UAE believe that nuclear energy is important for the nation.”

He was speaking at a conference on the role of nuclear power in a sustainable energy future at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

Energy demands around the globe are growing at a rapid pace. “They are expected to keep on growing and climate change is an ever-pressing issue,” said Matt Brown, director of Poyry Management Consulting in the UK. “The evidence is getting stronger but nuclear production has been falling over the last two years across the globe.”

Ali Nouri, regional vice-president at the nuclear power company Areva Middle East, believes that the decline is a result of the reaction to the 2011 meltdown in Japan. “We are in the post-Fukushima era and we learned a lot from this accident,” he said. “It’s normal that we see some reconsideration of the role of nuclear in the global energy mix but we need to leave this kind of reaction behind and reconsider the energy needs that are growing worldwide.”

To overcome the Fukushima effect, better communication with the public is essential, said Roger Hayes, senior counsellor at the communications company APCO Worldwide in the UK. “In a transparent world, nuclear energy has to learn to be trusted,” he said. “That means open exchange of opinions. The key is public acceptance and dialogue with stakeholders of what the future balance of energy supply should be.

“We need a new global nuclear narrative,” he said. “Countries like the UAE can be a bridge between traditional countries, like the UK and France, and emerging countries. There is no doubt that nuclear is a front-runner yet its benefits have, to some extent, been masked by events such as Fukushima and Chernobyl.”

Mr Petrunik said nuclear power was essential to meeting the UAE’s future energy needs and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Around the world, I believe countries are looking at nuclear energy for the same reasons as the UAE – global warming, energy security and energy independence,” he said.

“Today, we have our first two plants under construction and we hope to break ground later this year on the next two, which are on schedule and on budget.”

By 2020, four plants are expected to be in operation, producing 5,600 megawatts of nuclear energy – 25 per cent of the UAE’s expected energy needs. “This will save the UAE 12 million tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions every year,” Mr Petrunik said.

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