To save the planet, follow in the footsteps of the Gulf in nuclear energy

Barakah nuclear plant

FILE PHOTO: The Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in the Western Desert of Abu Dhabi

Photo: AP

There is a delightful irony in the fact that, even as the sun slowly sets in the age of fossil fuels, two of the countries with oil and gas reserves that have supported the global economy for decades are now at the forefront of the nuclear-power renaissance.

The United Arab Emirates is already generating electricity at the Barakah nuclear plant. When all four of its reactors are operational, the plant will provide a quarter of the UAE’s energy.
Saudi Arabia – which has been blessed not only with vast fortune-altering oil but also huge reserves of uranium needed for nuclear power generation – is also planning its first reactor in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Oil and gas will continue to flow from the region for years to come. But what both countries understand – and what those who demand an immediate halt to fossil fuel production and consumption reject – is that without fossil-fuel revenues, the costly transition to renewable energy simply cannot be achieved.

The term “Renaissance” may seem an odd term for a technology whose first light bulbs were lit nearly 70 years ago. But over their bountiful years of fossil fuels, nuclear power has had a lot of bad press.

This is partly because the technology is tainted by association with the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of World War II, which makes sense as refusing to drink water because people are known to drown in it.

Others point to the possibility of disaster. The most recent example of this anti-nuclear propaganda is the book “Atoms and Ashes” by Harvard historian Serhi Plukhi.

Plokhy gleefully wanders through the good catalog of nuclear accidents – topping Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima. But, as one science commentator noted, these examples “do not adequately support his final conclusion that nuclear power is not a safe option to power our future.”

Mistakes undoubtedly occurred, and corners were certainly cut in the early years of reactor design. But lessons have been learned and modern reactors are very safe. The thorny issue of spent fuel disposal is also being resolved.

What’s more, despite the sci-fi hysteria rife around nuclear power, there have only been two major accidents – Three Mile Island was a partial reactor meltdown with no casualties – and their consequences were much less serious resulting in many accidents. Believe.

To date, 46 deaths are directly attributable to the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, although the total number of accident-related deaths is widely disputed along with the magnitude of the health impact of radiation. In both cases, the accident was the result of a defective Soviet-era reactor operated by poorly trained personnel.

The plant in Fukushima was damaged in 2011 by a tsunami, caused by the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Japan. Nobody died.

Compare these nuclear disasters with fossil fuel losses – for a start, an estimated 8.7 million people die each year from associated air pollution, not to mention the countless lives lost in coal mining.

No form of mass energy production is without risks. In 1975, the collapse of the Banqiao hydroelectric dam in China killed more than 170,000 people. But has the world abandoned hydropower? number.

However, after the Fukushima accident, countries that really should have known better panicked to give up nuclear power for purely political reasons. Faced with nationwide anti-nuclear protests and pressure from a green vote, Germany halted nuclear power generation almost overnight.

As of 2011, 25 percent of the country’s energy came from 17 nuclear reactors. Today, all three that are still in operation are marked for closure by the end of this year. Meanwhile, Germany is reopening coal-fired plants.

The truth is that nuclear power is the ultimate clean and reliable energy source. Wind, solar, and hydropower are great, but when the wind isn’t blowing, the sun isn’t shining, and the water isn’t flowing, there are only two options – fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

This is something that the UAE and Saudi Arabia recognize and embrace, two countries on which major decisions can be made and acted upon quickly, and whose leadership in the nuclear field bodes well for all of our future.

By working with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the two Gulf states are demonstrating what can be achieved in a remarkably short time and encouraging the global nuclear industry to develop more compact and affordable nuclear reactors. This in turn paves the way for other countries, further down the development ladder, to follow suit.

When world leaders gather at climate change conferences, much of the discussion revolves around the need for developing countries to rein in their appetite for fossil fuels. Coming from European countries like the UK, which launched the era of fossil fuels and fueled the growth of their economies with coal and oil, this is laughable hypocrisy.

The West should stand up to the perniciously turbulent green lobby, embrace nuclear power as a planet-saving technology, and instead of suggesting that developing countries abandon the fossil habit and impede their economic growth, support it with funding and expertise. They need to embrace nuclear power.

Without it, the world could be doomed. In 2005, 66.5 percent of global electricity was generated by burning fossil fuels. In 2019, it was 63 percent. In 14 years, we’ve made almost no progress.

The solution, as the UAE and Saudi Arabia realize, is nuclear power. It is time for the world to grow up, abandon the irrational attitude towards nuclear energy, and follow its lead.

In coordination with the union office

Jonathan Journal is guest contributor. The opinions expressed are personal.

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