UAE’s Barakah Nuclear Plant Raises Risk of Nuclear Mishaps in Gulf Region
Last updated on July 16th, 2020
Decades ago nuclear plants dominated the global discussions, but today the countries are moving away from it. They are making efforts to scale back nuclear energy projects, moving towards safer energy solutions like wind and solar energy. When the world is embracing sustainable energy sources, the United Arab Emirates is going all nuclear with its first nuclear power station Barakah nuclear plant.
With its four APR-1400 nuclear reactors of a total capacity of 5,600 MW, Barakah plant is the first commercial nuclear power station in the Arab World. The power plant site is located in the Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi.
In March, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), responsible for building and operating the Barakah nuclear plant, announced the completion of fuel assemblies’ loading into the Unit 1 reactor. The ENEC also stated that the project will meet the UAE’s 25 percent of energy needs, when all the four reactors are fired up and plugged into the grid.
Wide concerns regarding the Barakah nuclear plant were raised by analysts who called its development a serious threat to regional stability and the environment. The UAE was also accused of showing lack of co-operation with other states on the project. Denying all criticism, the UAE assured that Barakah adheres to the highest standards of nuclear safety and security.
The UAE has signed up to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which allows the latter to verify the peaceful use of all nuclear material with comprehensive safeguards agreements. By doing this, the country has long exhibited its peaceful intentions. The country also secured a coveted 123 Agreement with the US, which is a seal of approval from the latter and focuses on bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation, including the transfer of nuclear material, equipment and components.
The bindings have not been able to subside the fears of potential fallout of the UAE reactors. From an environmental disaster, radioactive materials’ theft to nuclear arms race between rivals are some of the factors that the experts believe could severely destroy the fragile relations holding the Gulf nations together.
Over the time, nuclear power plants have always been used to produce power for societies, but can easily be manipulated as a weapon for destruction. The analysts are of the opinion that the reactors at the Barakah nuclear plant are vulnerable, since there are several possible avenue of attacks. For sure the accidents and incidents on the high-level stuff could be problematic.
One major reason behind the constant warnings is Barakah’s troubling record, which includes more information on the construction and late disclosure of problems emerging in the process. Barakah’s number-three containment building detected cracks in 2017, but this news was disclosed a year later by the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), which is responsible for the safe operations of the UAE’s nuclear reactors. The authority will now have to be more cautious and bring transparency in its work.
The cracks have raised the boundless threats of what would happen if the radiations from Barakah gets released into the surrounding environment. The unique ecosystem of the Gulf will be affected the most. The past nuclear incidents like that of Chernobyl and Fukushima have raised alarms of similar events in the present.
Chernobyl released 400 times more radioactive material into the planet’s atmosphere than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the US. Similarly, disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is considered a manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.
Most of the radiation released during the Fukushima accident ended up in the Pacific Ocean and got dispersed. But if the Barakah nuclear plant meets the same fate, there is no telling what devastation it would bring. Dispersing the radiations and nuclear wastes would not be easy since Gulf is smaller, warmer and shallower.
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