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Mon 28 Jun 2010 03:52 PM

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Expert questions Gulf's nuclear 'infatuation'

Eckart Woertz says current nuclear policies ignores supply and cost concerns.

Expert questions Gulf's nuclear 'infatuation'

As Gulf nations look towards nuclear energy as a solution for their power feedstock needs, a leading experts has warned that there is a danger that Gulf officials are overlooking vital supply and cost issues.

“There’s currently an infatuation with nuclear energy in the Middle East, but there are a couple of big question marks over that option,” said Eckart Woertz, head of the economics department at the Gulf Research Centre, said on Monday.

“There are always cost overruns and frankly I just don’t believe some of the figures. In some cases the European nuclear industry is still requiring subsidies 50 years after market entry.”

At the end of last year, Abu Dhabi inked a $20bn contract with a South Korean consortium to build a series of reactors on the coast of the western UAE. The first plant is expected to come online in 2017, which Woertz claimed was “a very ambitious timescale”, with the emirate aiming to produce 25 percent of its electricity through nuclear power by 2020.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have also expressed an interest in the nuclear option, and Jordan has already signed a deal to build a test reactor in the Levant country.

But Woertz said that local officials might be overlooking long-term doubts over the security of uranium.

“Only 60 percent of uranium actually comes from mining, the rest from stockpiles. We really need to increase mine production; a limitless guaranteed uranium supply is taken for granted,” he continued.

“But at the moment, it looks like we will run out of uranium before we run out of oil.”

Russia/Kazakstan, Canada and Australia are the world’s biggest exporters of uranium. Although there is plentiful uranium available, not all of it is suitable for use in nuclear plants.

“You need to enrich that uranium and for that you need energy. There’s also a point – which we call the ‘energy cliff’ where you will need more energy to enrich low-grade uranium than you actually get out of it at a plant later on,” Woertz added.

“You will also see shortages in high-grade uranium at some point over the next ten to 20 years. Maybe these predictions are wrong, but these need to be taken into consideration. It’s rarely discussed but those infatuated with this nuclear revival – they seem to take uranium supplies as much for granted as the West takes its oil supply for granted.”

The GRC expert also said that the cost of decommissioning plants was also exceptionally high. Although the UAE has announced that it will implement a fund to pay for the cost of decommissioning, Woertz questioned whether that would be enough.

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mohammed 9 years ago

Eckart Woertz is a German and a when a GERMAN scholar speaks he should be heard.

Tarek 9 years ago

If only a fraction of the money spent by the gulf countries on building towers and reclaiming the sea is directed to R&D in renewables there would be no need for nuclear reactors. this part of the world has huge amounts of solar energy waiting to be tapped and it is such a shame that it is not doing anything to make use of it.

Jon 9 years ago

Tarek, Unfortunately, the efficiency of solar panels is greatly reduces when they become dirty. Granted the region is blessed with a lot of sunshine, but it also has a lot of sand - just look at your car the next morning after a windy night. Unless a viable solution can be found to cleaning sand and dust, it will still be a tricky option to implement here. Totally agree on your comments regarding diverting funds for towers to R&D though.

Tarek 9 years ago

Jon, I totally agree with you, I have done my MA in this area and I know that the dust can be a problem, specially when it comes to photovoltaics (heat also reduces the efficiency of PVs considerably) but that is exactly why the countries of the region needs to invest in R&D to come up with renewable solutions that suites their climates. Wind energy can also be a very attractive option, with vast plains of empty deserts, wind energy will not face the problems it faces in other countries (visual pollution, use of land..etc.). The potentials are great, we just need to change our mindsets and get our priorities right.

madhu G 9 years ago

I was at the conference. Eckart has given a very nice talk. But one thing I feel is he should have highlighted the need for a primary and secondary education level awareness campaign on energy subjects. This will help a lot at least for future generations. To sell energy saving concepts are very tough in UAE and nearby as most o fteh load is Residential/commercial to a major extend except for some countries who have industries.