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Abu Dhabi Plans to Go Nuclear

The UAE capital, undaunted by Fukushima, says it will proceed with plans for a civilian reactor

(Corrects Bruce Smith's place of employment.)

Even as radiation leaks from crippled plants at Fukushima, countries from China to the Middle East are forging ahead with nuclear power. On Mar. 28, Abu Dhabi confirmed it would proceed with plans for a civilian reactor despite the Japan disaster. "It's a technology we should bring to the region," said Abdulla Saif al-Nuaimi, director general of Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority, at the Arabian Power & Water Summit. Nuclear generation remains the most realistic option, says Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at National Commercial Bank in Saudi Arabia: "It's cost-competitive, addresses some of the environmental risks involved in burning crude, and can be built on a large scale."

Power demand in Abu Dhabi is rising at about 10 percent a year, and nuclear energy is necessary to help make up for a lack of natural gas to burn in new generators, says al-Nuaimi: "With a shortage of gas here, we need to find other ways to produce power." Plans are for a reactor to be operational in 2017.

Efforts to increase power from sources such as solar energy aren't likely to be sufficient to meet demand. The sheikdom wants to generate about 7 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2020. That would require 1,500 megawatts from projects such as wind and solar plants, says Bruce Smith, an adviser to the Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority.

Saudi Arabia faces fast-rising demand as well, with domestic electricity needs growing twice as rapidly as its economy. By 2020 it plans to have spent more than $100 billion on power plants and distribution networks, with about one-third going to plants and the rest to the national grid, says Abdullah al-Shehri, governor of Saudi Arabia's Electricity & Co-Generation Regulatory Authority. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah recently ordered 500,000 new homes built as the government tries to forestall unrest, which will add to the rising demand for electricity. The kingdom is also looking to sources such as solar power and nuclear plants to boost energy output.

The bottom line: Far from backing away from nuclear power, Abu Dhabi plans to build its first civilian nuclear plant to meet rising energy demand.

DiPaola is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

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