Nuclear power plant in UAE risks sparking arms race, expert warns

December 28, 2019 0 By HearthstoneYarns

Four nuclear reactors being built in the United Arab Emirates could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and leave the Persian Gulf at risk of a Chernobyl-style disaster, a leading nuclear scientist has claimed.

In a report, Dr Paul Dorfman, chairman of the Nuclear Consulting Group, warned the UAE’s Barakah nuclear power plant lacks key safety features, poses a threat to the environment, is a potential target for terrorists and could be part of plans to develop nuclear weapons. 

“The motivation for building this may lie hidden in plain sight,” Dr Dorfman told the Telegraph. “They are seriously considering nuclear proliferation.” 

Dr Dorfman, who is also an honorary senior research associate at University College London’s Energy Institute, has served as a nuclear adviser to the British government and led the European Environment Agency response to the Fukushima disaster.

However, the UAE has stressed that it is committed to “the highest standards of nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation.”

The UAE hired the South Korean firm Korea Electric Power Corporation to build the Barakah – “Divine Blessing” in Arabic, plant in 2009.

It will be the first nuclear power plant in the Arabian peninsula, and has fuelled speculation that Abu Dhabi is preparing for a nuclear arms race with the Islamic Republic.

The UAE has denied allegations by the Qatari government that its power plant is a security threat to their capital of Doha and the Qatari environment, dismissing any causes for concern.

However, Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed they hit the Barakah nuclear power plant with a missile in 2017.

The UAE denied that the rebels fired any such missile, adding that they had an air defence system to deal with such threats. Dr Dorfman said that scrambling fighter aircraft or firing surface to air missiles in time to intercept an incoming strike would be difficult.

In September, Saudi air defences failed to stop a drone attack on oil processing facilities. Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for that attack, though Saudi Arabia blamed Iran.

The increase in transportation of radioactive materials through the Persian Gulf when the plant goes into operation could also raise the risk of potentially fatal collisions, explosions, or equipment and material failure. Any radioactive discharge resulting from accidents could easily reach population centres on the Gulf coast and have a potentially devastating impact on delicate Gulf ecosystems, including rare mangrove swamps.

The plant is also vulnerable to climate change and extreme temperatures that could affect its cooling system, Dr Dorfman’s report says.

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The International Panel on Climate Change has said that extreme sea level events are now likely to happen more frequently, meaning coastal power plants such as Barakah could become defenseless against rising sea levels, tidal ingress and storm surges.

High average sea water temperatures in the Gulf could also make it more difficult to cool the reactor using sea water. The cost of the 1986 Chernobyl accident has been recently estimated to be around $235 billion (£179 billion).

The Japanese Centre for Economic Research has said the 2011 Fukushima accident cost over 81 trillion YEN(£567 billion), although the Japanese government has put the cost at YEN 22 million (£142 billion).

The United Arab Emirates Foreign ministry had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.