x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Nuclear plans 'focused on safety'

The UAE nuclear programme receives international acclaim as the public voices its fears.

ABU DHABI // The UAE's nuclear energy programme has been put up for scrutiny alongside the plans of dozens of other countries hoping to develop nuclear power.

The plans for four nuclear energy plants in Abu Dhabi, the first of which is due to open in 2017, were displayed in Vienna at the Fifth Review Meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety, WAM, the state news agency, reported yesterday.

Hamad al Kaabi, the UAE's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, said the UAE programme was seen as "one of the most advanced among the more than 60 newcomer countries that are considering introducing nuclear power in their energy mix".

He added: "We believe the response we have had to the programme at these meetings is yet another validation of the comprehensive and safety-focused approach taken by the UAE in developing both its regulatory infrastructure and the utility entity".

However, officials must convey this message to the public to convince them that nuclear power is safe in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, a new survey suggests.

Of 147 people surveyed for Al Aan TV's Nabd al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) programme by YouGov Siraj, only one in 20 (5 per cent) said they would choose nuclear power as a source of energy.

Those who favoured other sources of energy said their concerns were possible health risks, a negative effect on the environment and a belief that nuclear energy is more hazardous than the alternatives.

Opinion has hardened in the past month, as Japan has struggled to tackle radiation leaks at the stricken Fukushima plant after a tsunami and earthquake.

Almost a third (29 per cent) of respondents said that before the events at Fukushima they supported nuclear energy use, but now do not.

"After what happened in Japan, it has become a serious issue," said Maysoon Baraky, the host of Nabd al Arab.

Authorities have promised to learn from the Fukushima crisis. Although the review will address seismic risks, Theodore Karasik, the director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, says the UAE does not face any unique geographical risks.

But to convince the public Mr Karasik says the UAE must first assure them that "the technology and safety measures are among the best in the world".

"This was not the fact in Japan," he said.

The Fukushima disaster has been blamed on a reactor ill-equipped to deal with the natural disaster, along with a lack of suitable controls and oversight. It is the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine.

The UAE remains confident in its selection of a third-generation reactor design, developed by Korea Electric Power Corp, a South Korean company. Last month, in a statement to WAM, Mr al Kaabi said the reactor "is designed to withstand severe accidents and events, even those with a very low probability of occurrence".

Despite this, almost two fifths (38 per cent) of respondents to the Nabd al Arab survey said they would not feel comfortable with a nuclear power plant within 100km of their home, while an equal number said they were uncomfortable with a reactor anywhere in the country.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp's preferred site for the plants is Braka, in the Western Region, about 53km west-south-west of Ruwais. Final approval of the site rests with the federal nuclear energy authority.

mdetrie@thenational.ae