UAE Nuclear Power and Environmental Obstacles


Nuclear power is becoming an ever more significant topic, especially in the Gulf region and in the United Arab Emirates to be exact. It has been a growing matter due to oil reserves running out in the next three to four decades, and the UAE is looking and working on alternatives for oil in terms of energy supply and economic means as well. This paper will address two main questions, first; what is the UAE’s perspective towards nuclear power and energy, and what projects or plans does the UAE have? Second; what are the possible obstacles that are going to be faced in terms of the environment, waste, and continuity? Since 2009, the UAE signed a nuclear co-operation pact that made it possible for the UAE to become the first Arab country with nuclear power and capabilities (MacAskill, 2009). The UAE is on the move to gain nuclear power technologies and capabilities, and will hopefully achieve it despite the constraints that come with this issue such as environmental concerns and societal effects.


Nuclear power has become a rather crucial issue in the current global situation connected with the exhaust of resources. Many countries’ leaders direct their efforts at finding alternative sources of energy. For the United Arab Emirates, this question bears particular significance since the country’s oil reserves are predicted to run out in the nearest thirty to forty years. Therefore, the UAE is trying to find alternative sources of energy to supply to its citizens. One of the most promising perspectives in this field is nuclear power. There are two major questions regarding the UAE’s nuclear power perspectives. Firstly, it is necessary to analyze what projects the country has and what it has accomplished so far on the way to implementing nuclear power plants. Secondly, it is important to consider the possible barriers which are going to appear in terms of waste, sustainability, and the environment.

The debate about nuclear energy became very active after the Fukushima Daiichi accident which took place in 2011 (Rogner, 2013). Soon after the accident, many countries began to come up with various nuclear policies since no single policy could satisfy all countries. Two major patterns of conduct were delineated. On the one hand, there were states which preferred to call off their intentions of using nuclear power for future electricity needs. On the other hand, some countries had been operating nuclear power plants before 2011 or planned to start such programs. These states persisted in their plans, although they slowed down the speed of operations (Rogner, 2013).

For the UAE, the history of nuclear energy took a start in 2009 when the country signed a nuclear cooperation pact. In 2012, the UAE ordered its first nuclear power plant (Rogner, 2013). The country’s energy demand depends on a variety of factors. The openness of trade, direct investment, and carbon emissions are considered to be the reasons for the decrease in energy demand (Sbia, Shahbaz, & Hamdi, 2014). Clean energy and economic growth are believed to have a beneficial impact on the country’s energy consumption (Sbia et al., 2014).

While the UAE attempts to be among the most prominent countries in the sphere of energy use and wants to remain environmentally friendly, it employs the most current technologies to diminish its dependence on foreign gas (Sbia et al., 2014). Moreover, the beneficial impact of trade on household profit contributed to the general perception of the colossal environmental damage due to accelerated energy use and structural alterations of the waste conduct in the oil-rich state (Sbia et al., 2014). The advancement of clean energy in the country led to the escalation of interest in environmentally-friendly goods and raised the people’s awareness about the necessity to preserve the environment and fight climate change (Sbia et al., 2014).

Review of Literature

The benefits of nuclear energy are numerous, the major one being the possibility to obtain renewable energy resources. However, nuclear power presents several adverse outcomes on the environment which should be taken into consideration before building nuclear power plants and producing energy at them. The major negative issues associated with nuclear energy are radioactivity, waste disposal, and risks for the environment (Keller, Visschers, & Siegrist, 2012). The most common environmental concerns are associated with flora and fauna. First of all, a nuclear plant occupies a large territory, and habitats of many plant and animal species are destroyed in the process of constructing such plants. Moreover, during the plant’s activity, there are dangerous emissions that pollute the air and may produce an adverse impact on the environment (Steinhauser, Brandl, & Johnson, 2014). However, the greatest environmental impact of nuclear energy production occurs when an accident happens as such a plant. Steinhauser et al. (2014) investigate the environmental aftermath of two big nuclear accidents: Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011). The authors remark that the impact of such accidents lasts for many years of ever decades. Radioactive elements released into the air as a result of an accident poison water, ground, and air in a large area and produce an extremely negative impact on the environment (Steinhauser et al., 2014).

Sgouridis, Griffiths, Kennedy, Khalid, and Zurita (2013) analyze the issue of waste generation and the ways of dealing with it in the UAE. The authors note that the country has a very high waste generation level per person. This waste is commonly utilized in the landfills (Sgouridis et al., 2013). However, the authors remark that instead of such thoughtless disposal of the waste, it would be a good idea to turn it into something useful. For instance, Sgouridis et al. (2013) suggest that non-recycled waste can be a supplier of a reliable energy source that can be utilized for baseload power. Even though such power may be limited by the anticipated volume of waste accessible, which is 2.5% of the intended capacity, it is still a great way of managing the waste with benefit. AlFarra and Abu-Hijleh (2012) also analyze the ways of dealing with waste in the UAE. In their research, AlFarra and Abu-Hijleh (2012) remark that the reactor chosen by the UAE – Generation III + “APR1400” is the best choice for reaching the minimum waste amount. Moreover, this reactor type allows to improve the safety prospects and decrease the consumption of fuel (AlFarra & Abu-Hijleh, 2012)

Aswad, Al-Saleh, and Taleb (2013) investigate the sociological activity concerned with the issue of nuclear energy in the UAE. The authors note that there are many public awareness programs aimed at raising the social consciousness of the citizens. The majority of clean energy initiatives issued in the UAE concentrates on the side-energy management of demand (Aswad et al., 2013). The significance of public awareness campaigns is outstanding. None of the government efforts can succeed without the support from the citizens. In the UAE, an increased interest in sustainable energy resources has been noted in recent years. Many initiatives showing the country’s concern about switching to alternative energy sources have been introduced (Aswad et al., 2013).

For instance, Abu Dhabi has recently established a goal of acquiring seven percent of electricity from sustainable sources by 2020 (Aswad et al., 2013). The decision to move to a more sustainable economy was encouraged by some powerful economic and strategic agents such as the accelerated technological progress of clean energy technologies, the finite character of the hydrocarbon resources, and the affluence of resources in the country (Aswad et al., 2013). Notwithstanding the growing interest of society in sustainable energy options, research results indicate that the public’s opinion on the most crucial decisions is not taken into consideration (Theeyattuparampil, Vidican, & Al-Saleh, 2013). Therefore, a conclusion can be made that people are becoming more aware of and interested in the issue of clean energy and sustainability, but the government does not tend to take into consideration all of the citizen’s opinions.

The latest nuclear project in the UAE is the launching of the first nuclear plant (Jung et al., 2014). The potential of this project is very high. The UAE’s nuclear energy program is the most progressive among all the countries which are considering the launch of nuclear energy programs (Jung et al., 2014). The possibility to start such nuclear projects in the UAE was initiated due to two major factors: the deficiency of fossil fuels and climate change (Jamil, Ahmad, & Jeon, 2016). Renewable energy option is preferable because it enables the reduction of CO2 and other dangerous pollutants which are responsible for global warming.

Therefore, the project aimed at the implementation of renewable energy will be rather beneficial for achieving sustainability in the country (Jamil et al., 2016). Moreover, a project aimed at producing renewable energy will provide the UAE with many social and economic advantages such as assisting in energy supply diversification, improving the country’s rural and regional progress, and establishing a possibility for the advancement of job creation and domestic industry (Jamil et al., 2016). The UAE has great potential for renewable energy strategies which provide several opportunities. For instance, due to renewable energy techniques, it becomes possible to create new industries and decrease the reliance on fossil fuel profits. Also, with renewable energy, decarbonization and “green growth” becomes possible, and the UAE can initiate the cooperation with the major international partners (Jamil et al., 2016, p. 1183).


The variety of scholarly sources dedicated to the question of nuclear energy in the world in general and in the UAE, in particular, indicates the significance of this issue. The history of nuclear power in the UAE is not very long but it is intense, and the industry has a promising future in this country. The UAE did not reconsider its nuclear energy decisions after the Fukushima accident and is making confident steps in creating a potential for renewable energy resources.

Nuclear energy is a great substitute for fossil fuels, but it presents challenges along with numerous benefits. The major adverse outcomes presented by nuclear energy production are the ones concerned with the environment. The activity of nuclear power plants pollutes the air and destroys the habitat of plant and animal species. However, the biggest disaster for nature occurs when there is an accident at such plants. The aftermath of nuclear catastrophes can be felt over many years.

The problem of waste generated as a result of nuclear energy production is another serious issue. The UAE is recommended to generate such waste into useful energy. Sociological observations of people’s reaction to the production of nuclear power indicate the citizens’ apprehension and fear of the risk of accidents and concern for the environment. However, the evidence shows that in the UAE, people’s opinions are not given sufficient attention when making such crucial decisions as to the construction and activity of nuclear power plants.

In general, the prospects of nuclear energy production in the UAE are rather good. With appropriate consideration and all precautious measures, the country will be able to reach its nuclear power potential and supply the citizens with the necessary resources.


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