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Qatar joins International Atomic Energy Agency convention on nuclear safety

The move was announced on Monday [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 December, 2020

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Qatar has joined the International Atomic Energy Agency convention on nuclear safety on Monday, after repeated calls to protect the environment.
Qatar became the latest country to join the nuclear safety convention, authorities confirmed on Monday, with Doha saying it looks forward to working with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the future.

The agreement was "in accordance with its responsibilities and powers, to provide the required assurances to it, the countries of the region and the international community regarding the safety and security of the reactors currently existing or under construction", Sultan bin Salmeen Al-Mansouri, Qatar's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and international organisations in Vienna said.

The Gulf state, currently under a three-year blockade imposed by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, has long expressed concern over nuclear power plants in the region.

Last year, Qatar requested intervention from the IAEA to suspend the construction of a nuclear power plant by neighbouring UAE, citing concerns over the environment and regional stability.

The gas-rich state penned a letter to the IAEA stating the risks posted by the $24 billion Barakah plant, which include a radioactive plume reaching its capital city Doha within five to 13 hours.

The letter, which was seen by Reuters, also cited concerns over possible effects of a radiation leak into Qatar's water supply.

"Qatar believes that the lack of any international co-operation with neighbouring states regarding disaster planning, health and safety and the protection of the environment pose a serious threat to the stability of the region and its environment," the letter from Qatar's foreign affairs ministry to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said, according to Reuters.

The letter also highlighted that the technology used in the power plant by the UAE was relatively untested, adding that South Korea was the only country in the world operating a commercial reactor of this type.

Barakah, the world's largest nuclear plant, was connected to the national grid in August of this year, in a new first for the Arab world.

The milestone follows the successful start-up of the plant's first reactor at the end of last month and launches the UAE on the road to meeting 25 percent of its electricity needs from nuclear power.

"The safe and successful connection of Unit 1 to the UAE grid marks the key moment when we begin to deliver on our mission to power the growth of the nation by supplying clean electricity, around the clock," said Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation CEO Mohamed Ibrahim al-Hammadi.

"We are confident in our people and our technology to continue to progress to reach... the completion of the remaining three units, with the goal to power up to 25 percent of the UAE's electricity needs for at least the next 60 years."

The plant on the Gulf coast west of Abu Dhabi had been due to go online in late 2017 but faced a number of delays that officials attributed to safety and regulatory requirements.

The UAE has substantial oil and gas reserves, but with a power-hungry population of 10 million it has made huge investments in developing clean alternatives, including solar energy.

Barakah, which means "blessing" in Arabic, is a regional first.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has said it plans to build up to 16 nuclear reactors, but the project has yet to materialise.

Barakah was built by a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation at a cost of some $24.4 billion.

More than 950 kilometres (nearly 600 miles) of 400 kV overhead power lines had to be built to link the plant to the grid.

Barakah's other three reactors are said to be almost ready for operation.

The UAE lies just across the Gulf from Iran which has a nuclear power plant of its own outside the coastal city of Bushehr, as well as a controversial uranium enrichment programme.

The UAE has repeatedly said its nuclear ambitions are for "peaceful purposes" and has ruled out developing any enrichment programme or nuclear reprocessing technologies.

It has also moved to dispel any concerns over safety, underlining that the plant has welcomed more than 40 international reviews and inspection missions.

Despite the three-year dispute between Qatar and the other GCC member states, movements to end the crisis have now been announced, with a solution expected shortly.

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