The nuclear option

Interest in civilian nuclear power was hit by a major setback by the disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986.
The nuclear option
By Richard Baillie
Wed 22 Oct 2008 10:42 PM

Interest in civilian nuclear power was hit by a major setback by the disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986. That seemed to spell the end for the atom. But in the past three years, high hydrocarbon prices and a growing need to meet environmental targets have reignited the nuclear debate.

Many countries that were staunchly anti-nuclear, such as Italy and Germany, are now having second thoughts. In Italy the government is keen to build new nukes, while Germany is agonizing over the phase-out of older ones. The UK too is set to follow the nuclear path after the recent sale of British Energy to France’s EDF, a world-leader in nuclear technology.

The countries of the GCC will draw their own conclusions. Nuclear is certainly attractive to the region, partly fueled by a desire to increase technological capabilities, but mainly because it would allow the region to export high-priced oil products.

But it’s not quite a done deal. The civilian nuclear program proposed by the GCC is well supported by the G8 but there are genuine concerns over the prospect of a nuclear arms race with Iran.

High-tech alternatives to nuclear do exist. Carbon capture and storage has attracted a lot of attention of late. There are no immediate plans to install CCS technology in the region, but the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, the company executing the Masdar initiative, recently commissioned a feasibility study.

Dubai is focusing on building the world's largest hydrogen-fired power station. This multi-billion dollar project will be more expensive to construct than a conventional power station of similar output, but on the plus side, it won’t produce any harmful emissions.

The bottom line is there is no slam-dunk solution to solving the region’s energy problems. Untested green technologies carry a certain amount of development risk but then so does building a state-of-the-art nuclear facility.

Forward planning is an inexact science, particularly when it comes to energy, but the GCC countries should consider carefully the long-term cost-benefit implications of the competing technologies and resist wherever possible the temptation to base policy on short-term demand imperatives.

Richard Baillie is the editor of Utilities Middle East.

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