Green vs. Nuclear Energy: Which Option Is Better for MENA Countries?

Published August 5th, 2020 - 01:30 GMT
Green vs. Nuclear Energy: Which Option Is Better for MENA Countries?
The Barakah nuclear power plant that is expected to generate 25% of the UAE electric power and curb 21 million tons of carbon gases every year. (Shutterstock: Meryll)

The recent Emirati announcement of starting operations at the first Arab nuclear energy plant earlier this week has reignited an old conversation on whether this source of energy is the ideal one to support in the Middle East.

The $25 billion Barakah nuclear power plant that is expected to generate 25% of the UAE electric power and curb 21 million tons of carbon gases every year was first initiated in 2009 but construction in cooperation with Korea Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) didn't start until 2012. The lengthy process has faced several delays due to what Emirati officials referred to as "extra security requirements."

Being another project planned by the UAE government to diversify economic resources in the oil-rich country, the nuclear plant comes at a point in the region's life colored with a volatile environment, mostly due to wars in Yemen, Syria, and Libya. This is a concern that has been expressed often against the use of nuclear power in the MENA region, especially after the nuclear disaster that took place in Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant in the wake of a strong earthquake in 2011.

Such concerns intensified after an alleged missile attack was carried out by the Yemen-based Houthi group against the Emirati nuclear facility in December 2017.

In 2007, Jordan sat up a program called "Jordan's Committee for Nuclear Strategy" in addition to creating the "Jordan Atomic Energy Commission," both entrusted with setting up a nuclear program that can provide the country with 30% of its electric needs by 2030.

So far, Jordan has largely relied on natural gas imported from neighboring countries to generate electric power.

Being an importer of 95% energy needs, Jordan had considered making use of its substantial uranium reserve to not only save costs of its current energy generating methods, which make up one-fifth of its GDP, but also to export power to neighboring countries. 

However, safety and environmental concerns in addition to the scarcity of water needed to enrich uranium have all hindered the progress of the project, not mentioned often in local official media outlets anymore.

Over the last few years, Saudi Arabia has also announced plans to utilize nuclear abilities to generate power so it keeps up with its growing population. Saudi plans, aimed to make it an energy-efficient country by 2030, include building two large nuclear power reactors in addition to several smaller ones over the coming years.

Advocates arguing in favor of other forms of green energy have on more than one occasion voiced out their concerns that nuclear power might not be the best option for countries in a warm region such as the Middle East, where solar power can be a cleaner, safer, and cheaper source of energy that is available all year long.

Earlier this year, the Al Dhafra project in Abu Dhabi was announced as the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world, working on generating 700 megawatts to be used throughout the day before being especially stored for use during nights. 

Similarly, an announcement made last September highlighted  Saudi Arabia plans to allocate at least $320 million for solar energy projects.

In the last few years, Middle Eastern and North African countries have shown a notably growing interest in investing in solar-generated power, particularly as its costs continue to drop sharply, making it a golden chance for a mostly sunny region to stop relying on non-renewable sources of energy.

Do you think your country should invest in nuclear or solar power? Which energy source do you prefer and why?


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