Energy

Arab World Is About To Finish Its First Nuclear Reactor

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is on the verge of completing the Arab world’s first nuclear reactor.

The UAE is merely the first Arab country to embrace nuclear energy and many new reactors are planned in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, with the first reactor coming on line in 2022. The country has planned to build a nuclear reactor since 2006, thanks to financial help from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim countries, as well as technical assistance from France and Iran.

The UAE’s first nuclear plant will also house three other reactors, which should be completed in 2018, 2019 and 2020. When the plant is finished, it will provide a quarter of the country’s electricity, generating 5,600 megawatts of power.

The reactors would not produce the weapons-grade plutonium necessary for a nuclear bomb, but materials from the reactors could be used to create dirty bombs. A dirty bomb combines radioactive material with conventional explosives that could contaminate the local area with high radiation levels for long periods of time and cause mass panic. The Islamic State (ISIS) has expressed interest in stealing radioactive material for a dirty bomb — though it would be millions of times weaker than an actual nuclear device.

The UAE is relatively stable by Middle Eastern standards, but has sent numerous fighters to ISIS, is at a risk of terrorism and two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the country — Saudi Arabia is even more unstable, as the country produced fifteen of the nineteen hijackers.

America currently operates 99 nuclear reactors across 61 commercially-operated nuclear power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. Of the 66 new nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, only four of them are being built in the U.S. — just enough to compensate for shutting down older reactors. Instead of building more modern reactors, the government is planning to simply extend the operating licenses — which is against the advice of its own technical staff. America could get less than 10 percent of its electricity from nuclear by 2050, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Other countries haven’t shown the same reluctance as the U.S. to embrace nuclear power. India has a rapidly growing nuclear power program and the country plans to get 25 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors by 2050. China is also planning to build new nuclear plants and has plans to build 20 floating nuclear reactors in the South China Sea, strengthening its claim to the valuable and disputed region. The country plans to have 150 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2030, according to the World Nuclear Association.

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