The United Arab Emirates made history when it started up the Arab world’s first nuclear power plant.
The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation announced on Saturday that the initial unit of the Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi has been loaded with nuclear fuel and fired up, a major milestone in the yearslong process of the UAE harnessing nuclear energy.
The news from the UAE is likely to rattle some of its regional neighbors, including Iran, which is hostile toward the emirates and has been heavily sanctioned by the United States for its own nuclear program. The UAE is cozy with Saudi Arabia, which has been fighting a war against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, further complicating the spider web of regional ties.
Qatar, a small peninsular country of some 2.6 million people, has also expressed concerns about the UAE’s Barakah nuclear plant. Last year, the country called it a “flagrant threat to regional peace and environment,” according to the BBC.
Arab nations have tried to develop nuclear energy capabilities in the past. When Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, his country worked on the Osiris research reactor, although Israel bombed the facility in 1981 for fear that the country was using nuclear power as a front to build atomic weapons.
Paul Dorfman, who leads the International Nuclear Consulting Group, expressed concerns about Barakah and said that “the tense geopolitical environment in the Gulf makes nuclear a more controversial issue in this region than elsewhere, as new nuclear power provides the capability to develop and make nuclear weapons.”
The reactor’s start-up was praised in the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, lauded the achievement on Twitter, hailing Barakah as “the first peaceful nuclear energy reactor in the Arab world.”
“We are now another step closer to achieving our goal of supplying up to a quarter of our nation’s electricity needs and powering its future growth with safe, reliable, and emissions-free electricity,” said Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation CEO Mohamed Ibrahim al Hammadi.
The UAE has its eyes set to have four total nuclear reactors, including Barakah, up and running by 2023. The total cost of the undertaking is estimated to sit at $25 billion.
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