Abu Dhabi, drawing lessons from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, is building “gold-standard” safety procedures into its plan to develop four nuclear reactors, a foreign adviser to the government said.
The United Arab Emirates, of which Abu Dhabi is the capital, is investing in facilities for nuclear power, renewable energy and liquefied natural gas to cut its reliance on oil. The U.A.E. will be the first Arab state in the Persian Gulf region to have a nuclear plant if the facility starts as scheduled in 2017. Iran generates atomic energy, and Saudi Arabia plans to develop its own nuclear program.
“Safety culture has got to be first, and here they are doing that,” said Barbara Judge, a member of an international nuclear advisory council formed by Abu Dhabi’s government. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima plant’s operator, “had moved to an efficiency culture” focused on profit over safety, Judge said, speaking by telephone from Abu Dhabi last week on the third anniversary of the Japanese nuclear accident.
Judge, a former chairman of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, is vice chairman of a committee advising Tepco, as the Japanese utility is known, on the decommissioning of the damaged Fukushima units. She serves on Abu Dhabi’s nuclear International Advisory Board, headed by Hans Blix, a former United Nations chief weapons inspector. Tepco’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant leaked radioactive material after a tsunami triggered by an earthquake struck the facility on March 11, 2011.
“We respond sincerely” to Judge’s assessment and “will steadily work to improve the safety culture in the company,” Mayumi Yoshida, a Tepco spokeswoman, said today in an e-mail.
Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp., the government-owned company building the Abu Dhabi plants, will be a benchmark for safety when the units are built, Judge said. Officials seeking her views into what went wrong at Fukushima have created strong regulatory oversight for the Abu Dhabi project, something Japan lacked, she said.
Authorities in the emirate are still working on a permanent plan for storing or disposing of nuclear waste, and the government didn’t brief advisory board members on any new developments, Judge said.
The U.A.E. is the fourth-largest crude producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Abu Dhabi holds most of the country’s oil reserves and also provides electricity and natural gas nationwide.
The U.A.E. plans to generate 25 percent of its power from four nuclear plants by 2020, Suhail Mohammed Al-Mazrouei, the energy minister, said in October. The reactors will produce 5,400 megawatts when completed, Matar Hamed Al Neyadi, an energy ministry undersecretary, said at the time.