The launch is raising concerns about the growing number of nuclear programs in the volatile Middle East.
By Vivian Yee
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to open a nuclear power plant on Saturday, raising concerns about the long-term consequences of introducing more nuclear programs to the Middle East.
Two other countries in the region — Israel and Iran — already have nuclear capabilities. Israel has an unacknowledged nuclear weapons arsenal and Iran has a controversial uranium enrichment program that it insists is solely for peaceful purposes.
The U.A.E., a tiny nation that has become a regional heavyweight and international business center, said it built the plant to decrease its reliance on the oil that has powered and enriched the country and its Gulf neighbors for decades. It said that once its four units were all running, the South Korean-designed plant would provide a quarter of the country’s electricity.
Seeking to quiet fears that it was trying to build muscle to use against its regional rivals, it has insisted that it intends to use its nuclear program only for energy purposes.
But with Iran in a standoff with Western powers over its nuclear program, Israel in the neighborhood and tensions high among Gulf countries, some analysts view the new plant — and any that may follow — as a security and environmental headache. Other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, are also starting or planning nuclear energy programs.
The Middle East is already riven with enmities that pit Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. against Iran, Qatar and Iran’s regional proxies. One of those proxies, the Yemen-based Houthi rebel group, claimed an attack on the Barakah plant when it was under construction in 2017.