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Abu Dhabi has designs on becoming bigger nuclear player

Abu Dhabi could develop a bespoke atomic industry instead of importing reactors in the future, a dean at the Masdar Institute has proposed.

Abu Dhabi could develop a bespoke atomic industry instead of importing reactors in the future, a dean at the Masdar Institute has proposed.

Scientists at the academic arm of the government’s clean energy company have developed a design for a small, underground reactor that could provide power, water and clean transportation fuel for 20,000 people.

The next step was to pitch the design, which has yet to be prototyped, for commercial development, said Youssef Shatilla, the dean of academic programmes at the Masdar Institute.

“We could own this and develop it with partners, versus the existing 1.4 gigawatt reactors that we imported from other countries,” he told nuclear executives in Dubai.

But it would take more than a paper published in a journal to make this reality, he said.

The development of specialised nuclear technology in the emirate reflects the rapid progress of atomic energy in the region. In 2008 Abu Dhabi unveiled the case for nuclear in a landmark white paper; today, it is in the process of building its first reactors and is on track to start producing power in less than four years.

Saudi Arabia and Jordan are among nations in the region intent on following in the UAE’s footsteps, despite a global popular backlash against atomic energy sparked by Japan’s Fukushima meltdown.

Mr Shatilla’s design relies on a 320-megawatt reactor, called a small modular reactor in industry speak, that would provide 100MW of power, 182,400 cubic metres of water a day and enough hydrogen fuel for 280,000 light vehicles. Nuclear desalination has not yet been widely deployed for civilian use.

“Nuclear desalination is not a tricky science,” said Mr Shatilla. “They are a real, safe, proven technology. Since we have an energy problem and a water problem we need to address that by an integrated solution.”

One potential site for a nuclear oasis, as he calls the combination of power, water and fuel production, could be Baraka, the remote site where Abu Dhabi is building its first reactors.

Separately, the Masdar Institute announced this week that it was reorganising into four new academic departments: electrical engineering and computer science, engineering systems and management, mechanical and materials engineering, and chemical and environmental engineering.

“The regrouping of the academic programmes creates a very strong synergy among the programmes and new opportunities for interdisciplinary research,” said Fred Moavenzadeh, the president of the Masdar Institute.

“As Masdar Institute moves to its next phase of expansion and growth, we believe this new structure will provide an impetus in consistently achieving our academic goals.”

ayee@thenational.ae

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