The rising popularity of nuclear energy in the past few decades has led to emerging economies such as the UAE collaborating with more experienced producers like France to make use of such a technology while it still seems sustainable. This essay explores the interest and development of nuclear energy as a viable energy source in the United Arab Emirates; more specifically on the involvement of France in such developments and, additionally, in establishing a good infrastructure. It then continues to detail the benefits of the involvement of an experienced country in the usage of nuclear energy.
History of Nuclear Energy
The duality of the effects of nuclear energy often leads to mixed reviews and opinions regarding the concept itself. On the one hand, the lethal potential of nuclear bombs may cause extensive damages, perhaps, best exemplified by the catastrophe during World War II., for instance, the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was, in fact, the very event that lead to the signing of peace treaties between countries vowing to avoid such a horrific incident in the future. On the other hand, however, nuclear energy as a source of energy, for example, electricity, is a way to obtain large amounts of energy at a relatively reasonable cost and supply a large amount to meet the demands of any rapidly expanding economy. While the environmental impacts of nuclear power plants are negative, so are the effects of the burning or depleting fossil fuels. Nuclear energy may be seen as an ultimately necessary evil (Erler et al., 2012). Nuclear power itself first emerged as a viable energy source over 50 years ago. Currently, there are over 400 operating plants running in 25 different countries, with the most commercial nuclear reactors placed in the USA, Japan, North Korea, France, and Russia. The general attitude of concern and fear towards nuclear energy, given the potential destruction that comes from the weaponization of nuclear power, means that it supplies a small, yet substantial portion of the world’s electricity. In order for this portion to grow, the nuclear industry, along with its supporters, incorporate strategies so as to expand the industry. These strategies entail actively courting emerging economies and developing countries, new designs for reactors, and extensive usage of propaganda (Ramana, 2016).
Origin of Nuclear Energy in the UAE
The foundation of the emerging economy in the United Arab Emirates is in the ample resources of natural gas and oil. In the past two decades, however, it has been speculated that the growth of the economy will lead to a rapidly increasing demand for energy in the country. Specifically, a growth of around 9 percent in energy demand was anticipated from 2007 onwards. This enhanced demand could not be adequately fulfilled by the fossil fuels that the UAE used, and should be substituted. Even from a corporate standpoint, natural gas was deemed insufficient to meet the demand, and burning of crude oils was determined too harmful to the environment, as was the burning of coal. The use of renewable energy sources, which was attainable, was not practical as it would not meet the demand for energy at the costs required. The substitution eventually occurred in the form of nuclear energy and entailed the setting up of nuclear plants. This interest in nuclear energy was announced in 2008 and led to the formation of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation for setting up regulations and licensing activities in the UAE.
Current Nuclear Energy Position of the UAE
The current focus of the UAE is the finalization of its first Nuclear power plant, the Barakah nuclear power plant. Initially inviting interest from nine different companies for the construction of such a plant, eventually, it was decided to chose Korea Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) to lead the construction. This led to awarding of contracts regarding the supply of uranium concentrates in 2012, in order for the plant to function. The constraction of the plant began in 2012, and it is planned to begin the operation between 2017 and 2020. It is hoped that the plant eventually supply a sufficient amount of the energy demanded by the UAE. An estimated 5600 MW could potentially be generated by the Barakah nuclear power plant (World Nuclear Association, 2016).
Nuclear Energy in France
Even though France is putting effort to reduce the usage of nuclear energy, the country now receives a primary portion of its energy from nuclear fission, at 39 percent (Erler et al., 2016). The electricity generated from nuclear energy is not only plentiful, but is also provided at a very reasonable rate, relative to the rest of the European Union. However, the dependence on nuclear energy means the country must occasionally import the energy source, which has resulted in energy independence (external safety) becoming a significant goal for France (Jouette et al., 2015). Currently, however, France employs a strategy of offering nuclear technology and nuclear information to various regions throughout the world, in exchange for geopolitical influence. This strategy had started in the Middle East, specifically with the UAE.
The United Arab Emirates and France have displayed peaceful relations with little to no conflict to report. On a cultural note, the Louvre Museum has planned an extension in the UAE, along with the Sorbonne University. France and UAE has also been collaborating on nuclear energy program as France agreed to work in collaboration with the UAE when the country along with the other members of GCC developed a commission to study peaceful use of nuclear energy (World-Nuclear, 2016). Furthermore, on a military note, France and the UAE signed a military deal in January 2008 that detailed France established a military base in the UAE. Alongside this, one must note that France is one of the primary providers of military weaponry to the UAE, meaning the latter is quite dependent on the former. Considering the fact that while France is already quite developed, the UAE is an emerging economy of sorts, it makes sense that the influx of information that France provides to the UAE leads to the UAE prioritizing its relations with France in its foreign policy. This, however, creates possibilities here, France is in a position to potentially hold geopolitical influence and power over the UAE, and potentially exploit the benefits that the information and resources (weaponry) it supplies (Schneider, 2009).
In addition, there has been cooperation between the two countries for the development of transportation infrastructure. Since 2008, the UAE has focused on developing the public transportation infrastructure for facilitating the citizens as well as tourists. In 2015, the RATP group, which is one of the major French-owned public transportation groups, agreed for working on collaborative urban traportation planning project (ArabianBusiness, 2015). Clearly, this collaboration would offer the UAE a chance to further improve its transportation infrastructure in future.
UAE-France Civil Nuclear Cooperation 2008
On January 15, 2008, France signed a Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with the UAE. This detailed the formation of a joint committee that would oversee the aspects of water desalination, nuclear power generation, and applied research in the Middle East. This was among one of many high level government-to-government consultations for its upcoming nuclear power project: the Barakah nuclear power plant. This agreement allows to create a framework for cooperation, particularly in the potential use and evaluation of nuclear energy in the pursuit of peaceful purposes. It is meant to lead the UAE into a new era of nuclear energy and provide relief from the exhausting oil and gas resources that have been under strain as the economy develops. This agreement, however, must be taken with a grain of salt, as France has been known to sign such cooperation agreements and collaborate on nuclear programs previously, and of those 34 prior agreements with different countries, 15 countries never started a nuclear reactor. This has not been the case for the UAE (the Barakah nuclear power plant is nearing its completion), but the lack of reliability from the side of France should not be dismissed, especially when making any future agreements (Schneider, 2009).
Current UAE-France Nuclear Dealings
During the construction of the nuclear power plants, France, amongst a number of other countries, were in bidding wars to supply concentrates of uranium and materials to build the respective reactors. Since France, the USA, the UK, and South Korea have all signed nuclear cooperation agreements, all are entitled to share technology and knowledge transfer, as well as facilitate the routes of open supply. Since the UAE nuclear policy emphasizes the highest standards not only on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also on safety and security, it was imperative that any supply of information and materials should be of the utmost quality. However, it was precisely this standard that led the UAE to choose Korean materials for the building of their first reactor, and a factor that France displayed room for improvement, as it lost that particular bidding war (Yee, 2011).
Benefits of Nuclear Energy for the UAE
Nuclear energy, in general, provides a whole range of benefits and opportunities for the UAE. It is quite a clear and attainable solution for the short-term energy insufficiency foreseen in the future of the UAE, given that it constantly provides energy and is resistant to the heat and water scarcity issues that brings desert climate in the UAE. There are also external benefits provided by such an arrangement, such as the fact that the residual heat created by the nuclear plant may be used to power desalination plants. When speaking of long-term objectives, the prime goals of the UAE is to grow its economy and become a developed, more powerful country. A method to achieve this is the general diversifying of the economy, not only spreading risk in case industry falls, but also in creating a diversified range of workers that should help the economy in the distant future. As regards long-term goals in relation to nuclear power, the UAE generally hopes to use the information it has attained from different countries, including France, and to modify and adapt the technology in a manner that would allow them to profit from it by selling it to other countries or back to the originating countries (Thor, 2016).
The fortunate news is that due to the fact that Barakah nuclear power plant has been advancing at a rate much faster than nuclear projects being carried out in far more developed countries. This speaks volumes towards the efficiency and capability of the UAE in general and invites the possibility of additional nuclear projects, as their likelihood of success is greater than a brand new venture that the Barakah was initially. There is also a trend of growing evidence for improving salaries and promotion possibilities as the nuclear sector in the UAE becomes more and more established, and it is expected that the workforce for this industry should grow as well, leading to more employment opportunities and further advancing the economy (Thor, 2016). These benefits serve not only the current generations but also future ones as the effects of the subsequent growing economy last through multiple generations.
Specifically, the construction of the Barakah nuclear power plant has led to 1400 Emirati companies benefiting from contracts worth $3 billion over the past 6 years. A factor that has led to significant economic growth and the growth of heavy industry within the country itself. The construction and development of the plant, and the preparations for the delivery of services and products has been secured via these contracts, eliminating future uncertainties on whether the energy will be properly transported to its users, and further ensuring that the whole four-part unit facility be online by 2020, as it is scheduled.
The Future of Nuclear Energy
The rising importance of renewable energy sources (as global social responsibility grows) means that countries are generally moving away from harmful nuclear power plants. France itself is moving away from nuclear power and towards either importing its energy or moving towards renewable energy, particularly that of wind energy (Enevoldson & Sovacool, 2016). The fact that the already established nuclear facilities in France are nearing the end of their lives and must be decommissioned soon also provides a window to subsititute one form of energy for another. It is reasonable to assume that the life cycle of nuclear energy in the UAE may also follow the same route. Keeping that in mind, it may be speculated that renewable energy as a whole may grow in the UAE as well. Current research suggests that the implementation of medium and long-term renewable energy policies are proven to be most effective in causing a shift in the power sources use, and may be employed in the UAE soon (Amir and Abu-Hiljeh, 2013).
In conclusion, while the use of nuclear energy has mostly positive effects on the Emirati workforce and the economy as a whole, the future of nuclear energy seems bleak. As discussed above, the overall civil nature of the France-UAE affairs does not exclude the possibility of political influence or exploitation. While the nuclear power cooperation agreement signed in 2008 served to benefit the UAE and help provide the country with much desired information to fulfil the energy requirements, France is provided with geopolitical power. At the moment, however, it seems prudent to simply observe the initial performance of the Barakah nuclear power plant, and anticipate the success and public opinion resulting from its recent debut.