GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Nuclear Power in the GCC: Environmental Impacts and Safety Concerns
Paper Proposal Text :
Nuclear Power in the GCC: Environmental Impacts and Safety Concerns
Alia Sabra1 and M. V.Ramana 2,*

1 Energy Studies Program, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, American University of Beirut, Riad El Solh 1107-2020, P.O. Box 11-0236, Beirut, Lebanon

2,* Nuclear Futures Laboratory & Program on Science and Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, 221 Nassau Street, Floor 2, Princeton NJ 08542,

Several countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in particular Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are justifying their interest in nuclear power partly on the basis of environmental factors. For instance, KSA’s King Abdullah City for Atomic & Renewable Energy (KACARE) explicitly claims that “Atomic Energy is a safe, reliable, clean and mature energy source with an exemplary safety track record. It is used widely around the world generating around 16% of total energy demand whilst only requiring small amounts of fuel to generate huge amounts of energy. Beneficially, nuclear plants neither pollute the atmosphere nor generate much waste, added to which and contrary to traditional wisdom, there is absolutely no possibility that a nuclear plant can explode”. Institutions that promote nuclear power, such as KACARE, often use terms like “clean”, not generating “much waste”, and being “safe” despite the fact that over the world, nuclear power is seen as posing serious threats to the environment and public health.

Indeed, environmental considerations and concerns about severe accidents have been a major determinant of public attitudes towards nuclear power. Claims about the safety and clean nature of nuclear power are, we argue, actually a reaction from the nuclear industry and its promoters, aimed at trying to give a more positive image towards a problematic source of electricity. This is done, in part, by making justifiable claims about characteristics like low amounts of air pollution by nuclear power plants themselves, which nonetheless are misleading because they ignore the more significant concerns associated with nuclear power.

In addition, this paper also explicates two specific characteristics of nuclear power plants that belie the characterizations offered by the nuclear industry and its promoters: the inherent and incalculable risk of severe accidents that could result in releases of radioactive materials into the biosphere, and the continuous production of radioactive waste that remains hazardous to human health for tens of thousands of years. Both pose technical and institutional challenges that are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. The long-lived nature of nuclear waste constitutes an unprecedented stewardship challenge, whereas, ensuring relative safety of nuclear power plants inflicts tough regulatory and operational burdens. Further, water shortage is a particular concern to large areas within GCC countries, where relatively larger quantities of water is required by nuclear power plants. Finally, a potential contamination of water sources could result from a severe accident.

GCC, Nuclear power, Environmental Impact, Safety concerns, regulatory challenges