The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is building the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant, capable of generating 700 megawatts. During daylight, solar power will provide cheap electricity, and at night the UAE will use stored solar heat to generate electricity.
But at the same time, four nuclear reactors are nearing completion in the UAE, built by the South Korean Electric Power Corporation, KEPCO. The nuclear power plant is named Barakah – Arabic for divine blessing.
The UAE’s investment in these four nuclear reactors risks further destabilising the volatile Gulf region, damaging the environment and raising the possibility of nuclear proliferation.
The UAE nuclear contract remains South Korea’s one and only export order, despite attempts by KEPCO to win contracts in Lithuania, Turkey, Vietnam and the UK. Barakah, construction of which began in 2011, is in the Gharbiya region of Abu Dhabi, on the coast.
Although nuclear reactor design has evolved over time, key safety features haven’t been included at Barakah. This is important, since these reactors might not be able to defend against an accidental or deliberate airplane crash, or military attack.
Particularly worrying is the lack of a “core-catcher” which, if the emergency reactor core cooling system fails, works to keep in the hot nuclear fuel if it breaches the reactor pressure vessel. Concrete cracking in all four reactor containment buildings hasn’t helped, nor has the installation of faulty safety relief valves.
The debate over nuclear power and climate is hotting up, with some scientists suggesting new nuclear can help. Yet, the International Panel on Climate Change recently reported that extreme sea-level events will significantly increase, whether emissions are curbed or not. All coastal nuclear plants, including Barakah, will be increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise, storm surges, flooding of reactor and spent fuel stores. The UAE’s governmental environmental assessment of global heating’s impact on Barakah is conspicuous by its absence.