Saturday, 16 August 2008

The United Arab Emirates: big plans

Reuters is reporting a call for bids to manage the United Arab Emirates' nuclear power programme. The world's fifth largest oil exporter is coming up short in electricity generation requiring an additional 22 gigawatts within the next 7 years. That's the equivalent of 22 large nuclear plants [less than 15 of the really big AREVA EPRs].

I am inferring [as I believe the authors intended me to] that nuclear power is being considered for some of the 22 GWe needed in the next 7 years. I would say that from their current state, even commissioning one plant in that time would be impressive project management to say the least. But one does not have to be in project work for long to learn that given enough money, just about anything is possible. [I'm not talking about payoffs and corruption here but instead: resource allocation, experience/skill acquisition and the expediting of supply.]

Rumour has it, the UAE has a bit of cash on hand. For example, they recently contributed US $10 million to the IAEA for an international nuclear fuel bank. With Iran on its doorstep, no doubt they are distancing themselves ideologically from Iran's rogue-nuclear-state image by going completely the opposite direction with respect to fuel supply.

So why blog here about the UAE? Well for starters they are behind Australia with respect to existing nuclear infrastructure. The article linked above mentions their need to develop several key prerequisites to an eventual nuclear power industry - not just an independent regulatory body, but even the "laws to govern the sector". Australia has got nuclear related legislation and a regulator already. No doubt the laws would need revising and the regulator may require additional resources - but we've also got some experience in this area. Enjoying our own resource boom, Australia has the money to make things happen if really needed.

Finally, one of the companies that may bid on the job is Australia's own WorleyParsons Ltd. Should WorleyParsons win the job, the resulting experience could serve Australia well.

One of many interesting watch-areas within the nuclear industry.


  1. The Reuters article doesn't mention desalination for which neighbouring countries are trying to find alternatives to thermal based gas plant. Note Worley Parsons is supposed to be building gas backed solar thermal electricity in the WA Pilbara region to be sold at 15c per kwh. Interestingly the sun drenched and gas rich UAE have declined that route. Perhaps 7 years is the window of affordability between having spare oil cash and struggling to keep up with domestic cost pressures.

  2. Thanks - you've made several good points.

    I was looking at the WP website while drafting the post. They look keen to take on any big energy project - seemingly independent of technology. If they keep their work to a high level; getting it done roughly to time, quality and budget expectations - they will probably make boatloads of money for many years to come.

    I support the idea of nuclear desalination [which is to say nuclear electricity generation used to run large desalination plants]. Nuclear packs such a significant punch, it fits well with the amounts of water required to sustain a growing and changing world. Combining the two can also allow smaller utility systems cope with some extra capacity [swapping to/from the desalination as other loads peak and dip].