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UAE becomes first Arab nation to open a nuclear power plant

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The United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to open a nuclear power plant Saturday, raising concerns about the long-term consequences of introducing more nuclear programmes to the Middle East.

[BEIRUT] The United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first Arab country to open a nuclear power plant Saturday, raising concerns about the long-term consequences of introducing more nuclear programmes to the Middle East.

Two other countries in the region — Israel and Iran — already have nuclear capabilities. Israel has an unacknowledged nuclear weapons arsenal and Iran has a controversial uranium enrichment programme that it insists is solely for peaceful purposes.

The UAE, a tiny nation that has become a regional heavyweight and international business centre, said it built the plant to decrease its reliance on the oil that has powered and enriched the country and its Gulf neighbours for decades. It said that once its four units were all running, the South Korean-designed plant would provide a quarter of the country's electricity.

Seeking to quiet fears that it was trying to build muscle to use against its regional rivals, it has insisted that it intends to use its nuclear programme only for energy purposes.

But with Iran in a standoff with Western powers over its nuclear programme, Israel in the neighbourhood and tensions high among Gulf countries, some analysts view the new plant — and any that may follow — as a security and environmental headache. Other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, are also starting or planning nuclear energy programmes.

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"The UAE's investment in these four nuclear reactors risks further destabilising the volatile Gulf region, damaging the environment and raising the possibility of nuclear proliferation," Paul Dorfman, a researcher at University College London's Energy Institute, wrote in an op-ed in March.

Offering evidence that its intentions are peaceful, the UAE points to its collaborations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has reviewed the Barakah project, and the United States, with which it signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement in 2009 that allows it to receive nuclear materials and technical assistance from the United States while barring it from uranium enrichment and other possible bomb-development activities.

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