Clean, affordable electricity on a massive scale – that’s what developing countries are demanding now. In short, they want what developed countries have: abundant, emission-free electricity to power industry, heat and cool homes and raise standards of living for all. And which country has emerged as a world leader in such endeavors? The United Arab Emirates.
As world leaders convene now in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, at the United Nation’s Twenty-Seventh Conference of the Parties (COP27), the challenge to slow global warming and forge a path forward is greater than ever. Whatever the outcome, one fact looms large: Nuclear energy is a well-proven source of cost-effective, carbon-free power.
The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) reports that the 441 reactors operating worldwide at the end of 2020 have avoided 72 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over the past 50 years. In my own country, the United States, nuclear energy has essentially eliminated oil as a source of electricity and is by far the largest source of carbon-free electricity.
How to leverage that benefit? There are encouraging signs. One example is the Partnership for Accelerating Clean Energy (PACE) between the United States and the UAE. Its ambitious goal is to provide 100 gigawatts of clean energy to countries around the world. That is a tremendous amount of power, more than a quarter of all the electricity the United States uses in one year. PACE aims to catalyze $100 billion in financing, investments, and other support to deploy that much power.
What strengthens PACE’s chances of success are the core pillars the US and UAE have agreed to under the PACE framework. These include the development of clean energy innovation and supply chains, managing carbon and methane emissions, and industrial and transport decarbonization. The US and UAE will identify priority projects that will remove potential hurdles to setting these pillars in place, and they will set up a committee to guide this effort well into the future.
Notably, the UAE has demonstrated real leadership in its pursuit of nuclear energy. In 2020, it became the first Arab country to operate a commercial nuclear plant, and in March of this year, its second reactor at the Barakah site went into service. The UAE has a third reactor at about half power and a fourth scheduled to come on-line in 2024. Together these reactors will provide about 25 percent of the UAE’s electricity, dramatically reducing the country’s carbon footprint.
The UAE has garnered recognition by the International Atomic Energy Agency and has demonstrated its commitment to meeting or exceeding the highest international standards. UAE leadership in nuclear energy got another boost when the WANO just named as its president the CEO of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, Mohammed Al Hammadi. This is a clear recognition of both Al Hammadi’s and the UAE’s leadership in nuclear safety.
The UAE’s expansion of its nuclear program presages greater engagement in addressing the global challenge to curb carbon emissions. It will host next year’s Conference of the Parties (COP28) and is welcoming the world to visit the country to see firsthand its
progress in clean energy, including its nuclear energy programme and clean energy developments at Masdar City.
Is this not a model for how the world should accelerate efforts address the challenges posed by a warming planet? The UAE is not only serving as an example of how a country can aggressively reduce its carbon footprint; it is convening people and fostering productive dialogue about energy, water, and financing needed to create a clean energy future.
And it’s not just what the UAE is doing, it’s how they are doing it: They are forming vital partnerships. For example, we're seeing Israeli and Emirati companies partner on drip irrigation and other advanced technologies.
In pursuing these measures, the UAE is forging still more new paths by bringing women into leading roles in nuclear energy. It was, for example, an Emirati woman who was in charge in the control room when the third unit at UAE’s Barakah site was brought to power. This is something likely unimaginable even 10 years ago in the UAE. No wonder more Emiratis are going into technical fields, including women.
Given its pursuit of new technological developments, it should be no wonder that NASA is poised to launch an Emirati rover to the moon this month.
If UAE can make such initiatives a reality, we should welcome its new initiatives to address some of our most challenging issues here on planet earth. Kudos to the UAE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Seth Grae is the President and CEO of Lightbridge Corporation (NASDAQ: LTBR), Member of the Board of Directors of the Nuclear Energy Institute, and Member of the Civil Nuclear Trade Advisory Committee to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. You can follow him on Twitter @sethgrae and Lightbridge @LightbridgeCorp