Nuclear Power’s Resurgence: UK-UAE Collaboration Fuels Global Expansion

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UK (Parliament Politics Magazine) When green parties initially gained traction in politics in the 1980s, many shared the same foundational principle: detested nuclear power. In 2023, nuclear power was included as one of the low-carbon technologies that should be “accelerated” to help reduce emissions in the 194-nation Dubai climate pact. Once unimaginable, nuclear power is formally acknowledged as an ally in the fight to rescue the environment, not an adversary. 

The United Arab Emirates, which has been running its first reactor since 2021, and Britain, which established the first commercial nuclear plant in history in 1956, are two nations hoping to capitalize on this nuclear renaissance. Britain and the UAE committed at Cop28 to triple global nuclear power capacity by 2050, and now Britain wants to collaborate more closely with the UAE. In addition to investment, there’s interest in exchanging knowledge, collaborating on technologies like small reactors, and taking a cue from the UAE as one of the world’s newest nuclear power nations.

On the fringes of Cop28, UK nuclear minister Andrew Bowie met with UAE colleagues and inked a deal with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) on behalf of his country.”We are working to further deepen our cooperation on future nuclear fuels and the exchange of ideas, personnel, and technologies.”Mr Bowie stated that it has been “amazing to see” how the UAE’s Barakah facility has developed and that both nations have “ambitious and forward-leaning” nuclear policies.

“Having the UAE as a partner on this makes sense, as they too acknowledge the significance of nuclear power in achieving our goals of reaching net zero, battling climate change, and advancing the economies of our two nations,” the speaker stated. Although Britain has a lengthy history with atomic energy, the World Nuclear Association reports that it is no longer among the top 10 nations with the greatest nuclear capacity and that it last opened a new plant in 1995.

Ministers have pledged a rebirth, spurred by several causes such as net-zero promises and the end of Europe’s Russian gas age. Britain is now seeking financing for Sizewell C, a £20 billion ($25.46 billion) nuclear facility. Despite Covid-19 delaying the project, a second site, Hinkley Point C, is currently under development (aided by Big Carl, the biggest crane in the world). The agreement in Dubai may provide investors with the confidence they require that nuclear energy has a promising future and that financing a facility like Sizewell C won’t put them in conflict with environmentally conscious regulators. 

According to Tom Greatrex, the president of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, the industry has its “rightful place alongside other zero-emissions, low-carbon technologies” since “nuclear” is all needed in the 21-page Dubai climate pact.

He stated that cooperation between the UK and the UAE might provide benefits beyond possible investments, partly because Barakah is one of the newest nuclear plants in the world. This month saw the completion of Barakah’s fourth and final unit. According to Mr. Greatrex, the project demonstrates the benefits of a “focused, disciplined approach” in which many components of the same technology are created quickly after one another. He stated, “It puts the UAE in a very strong position as a practitioner in civil nuclear, not just as a receiver of nuclear technology, as you might have thought a few years ago.”

The UK, the UAE, and many other countries have committed to tripling nuclear capacity by 2050. To get there, a lot more capacity, a lot more innovation and engagement in the supply chain, and a lot more exchange of experience are required. SMRs are included as a possible area of cooperation in the recently signed UK-UAE pact, with Britain hoping to sell Rolls-Royce models. Five additional UK businesses have been chosen to design mini-reactors, including Rolls-Royce. 

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This year, the US, the UAE, and other countries announced $275 million in support for a project comparable to Romania’s. According to Mr Greatrex, the next step is for early interest to “mature towards orders,” which is what businesses need in order to defend the construction of the facilities where SMRs are made.”SMR project development across different borders is going to be a big part of that, given the need for dispatchable, clean power,” he stated. The advantages of nuclear power include its ability to run continuously (unlike solar and wind energy) and its low CO2 production (unlike gas or coal). However, some people are against nuclear power due to safety concerns and radioactive waste.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.