The United Arab Emirates was the first Arab country to commission a nuclear power plant. Reactor block I of Akw Barakah on the northwestern coast of the Emirates was successfully started up on Saturday, Abu Dhabi’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Hamad Alkaabi, wrote in the short message service Twitter. The commissioning of the Akw just ten days after the start of the first Arab Mars mission underscores the Emirates’ aspiration to become a major regional power.
The commissioning of the reactor was a “historic milestone” for the Emirates, Alkaabi wrote. The aim is to establish “a new kind of clean energy for the nation”.
The Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Raschid al-Maktum, also spoke of a “historic achievement” in the country’s energy sector. The commissioning of the Akw was a “milestone on the roadmap for sustainable development,” he tweeted.
Once fully operational, the Barakah nuclear power plant will consist of four reactor blocks. It is operated by the Nawah Energy Company. It was built by a consortium made up of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) and the South Korean energy group Kepco. Construction costs were estimated at $ 24.4 billion.
The first reactor should actually go into operation at the end of 2017. After the completion of all four reactors, the power plant should have a capacity of 5600 megawatts and cover a quarter of the increasing energy requirement.
The Emirates are the fourth largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting States (Opec). A huge gas field has recently been discovered in the Gulf nation area. The Emirates are also investing billions in the development of renewable energies. This is part of the country’s strategy to “diversify its energy industry, reduce dependency on fossil fuels and further develop its image as a regional power in science and technology,” said a golf expert at AFP.
With the commissioning of the first nuclear power plant in the Arab region, Abu Dhabi also hopes to further expand its role as an emerging regional power. On July 20, the Emirates was the first Arab country to send a probe to Mars, thereby demonstrating its aspiration to become a major player in space and aviation.
The Emirates have repeatedly emphasized the peaceful orientation of their nuclear program and in recent years have allowed controls by the IAEA and the World Association of Nuclear Power Plant Operators (Wano). Qatar, however, describes the Barakah nuclear power plant as “a threat to peace in the region”.
The Akw Barakah – in English “blessing” – is only 50 kilometers from the border with Saudi Arabia and is closer to the Qatar capital Doha than to Abu Dhabi. Since the beginning of the Qatar crisis in 2017, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been boycotting the small neighboring country in the Gulf with the support of Bahrain and Egypt.