The UAE has launched operations at the Arab world’s first nuclear power plant on the Gulf coast just east of Qatar.
Nuclear fission has started in one of the four reactors at the Barakah plant, which uses South Korean technology.
The plant was slated to open in 2017, but the start-up has been repeatedly delayed due to various safety concerns.
The oil-rich UAE wants Barakah to meet a quarter of its energy needs as it shifts to more sustainable energy sources.
Just two weeks ago, the United Arab Emirates sent an investigation into a mission to Mars – another first high-profile scientist for the Gulf nation.
The UAE is also investing heavily in solar power – an abundant source of energy in the Gulf. Some energy experts question the logic of Barakah – which means “blessing” in Arabic. They argue that solar power is cleaner, cheaper and makes more sense in a region plagued by political tension and terrorism.
Qatar last year called the Barakah plant a “flagrant threat to regional peace and the environment”. Qatar is a bitter regional rival to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Across the Gulf is Iran, hostile to the UAE and subject to US sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.
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Dr Paul Dorfman, head of the international nuclear advisory group, wrote last year that “the tense geopolitical environment in the Gulf makes nuclear a more controversial issue in this region than elsewhere, as the new nuclear power offers the ability to develop and manufacture nuclear weapons ”. .
In his analysis, the London-based scientist also raised concerns about Barakah’s safety for technical reasons, highlighting the risk of radioactive pollution in the Gulf.
UAE leaders on Saturday hailed the start-up as a symbol of the country’s scientific progress.
The Barakah power station was developed by Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) and Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). The energy will be produced by 1,400 megawatt pressurized water reactors, designed in South Korea, called APR-1400.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the main oversight body for the nuclear industry – hailed Barakah in a tweet, saying Unit 1 at the plant had “reached its first criticality” – c that is, the generation of a controlled fission chain reaction.