Not clean or green, but GCC looks to nuclear energy to meet rising demands

Published December 3rd, 2015 - 09:31 GMT

Nuclear power plants in neighbouring GCC states could indirectly benefit Bahrain as the region moves towards greater interconnectivity. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have announced their plans to embark on ambitious nuclear power programmes – a move which Arab Union of Electricity Gulf region assistant secretary-general Mohamed Al Sadeqi said could benefit all member states.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the Third Arab Forum on the Prospects of Nuclear Power for Electricity Generation and Seawater Desalination, which kicked off yesterday at the Diplomat Radisson Blu Hotel, Residence and Spa. “A lot has to be considered before a nuclear plant is built – it has to be a certain distance from populated areas and other safety issues must be considered too,” Mr Al Sadeqi told the GDN.

“A lot of study is required and I think that, at this stage, Bahrain is not ready (for nuclear power plants). But we should also look at it from an Arab aspect too – we have many connections between Arab countries that Bahrain and the rest of the GCC can benefit from. I am sure the plants in the UAE, which will be the first in the region, will benefit the neighbouring countries as well. And should Saudi proceed with their plans, we are going to benefit too.”

A nuclear power plant is currently under construction at Barakah in the UAE with the first reactor set to come online in 2017. Saudi Arabia has plans to create a domestic nuclear industry in anticipation of continued high growth in domestic energy consumption and to free up more oil for export. Although a number of agreements have been signed, construction on any of the 16 or more plants has yet to begin.

Nuclear power plants are generally more expensive to build than an equivalent coal or gas-fuelled plant. However, they provide electricity at a much lower cost, combined with fewer greenhouse gas emissions. “Probably the biggest advantage of having a nuclear power station is its tremendously long life,” said Mr Al Sadeqi, who is also the Electricity and Water Authority’s electricity and water production and transmission vice chief executive.

“On average, these plants can easily last for 60 years and even go up to 80 years. “That is well beyond the life of conventional fossil fuel or diesel-powered plants. The GDN reported last year on plans to introduce a common energy market for the GCC that would be “fully operational within five years”.

This is envisaged as building on the success of the nascent GCC-wide power grid, which was established in 2009 and has reportedly helped member states avoid hundreds of once-common blackouts since. Bahrain was the second country to sign up to GCC Interconnection Authority, as the grid is also known, enabling it to exchange power with other countries and providing it with an alternative source during emergencies.

The three-day Third Arab Forum on the Prospects of Nuclear Power for Electricity Generation and Seawater Desalination concludes tomorrow. It was opened yesterday by Energy Minister Dr Abdulhussain Mirza and is being organised by the Arab Atomic Energy Agency and the Supreme Council for the Environment, in collaboration with the AUE and the Arab League. Elsewhere at the event, Arab Atomic Energy Agency director-general Abdulmajid Mahjoub called for greater investment in nuclear power in the region.

According to his figures, there are more than 438 nuclear plants in 31 countries around the world, with US having the highest. However, only four Arab countries have clear nuclear programmes, with the only two outside the Gulf being Egypt and Jordan.

“The increasing demand for energy, on top of water scarcity and the shortage of oil and gas have promoted the nuclear alternative,” said Mr Mahjoub.

By Shahlaa Ahmed

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