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Why Masdar is about more than realty

Why Masdar is about more than realty

Plans for the construction of Abu Dhabi’s ambitious eco city have been scaled back. But that doesn’t diminish the wider purpose of the initiative: To preserve the UAE’s energy-producer status after the oil runs out.

March 25, 2010 6:20 by

Since 2006, the Masdar Clean Tech Fund has invested $250 million in other clean tech funds and 12 start-up companies. It announced plans to partner with Deutsche Bank’s alternative energy investment arm to create a new venture capital fund with plans to invest another $500 million.

“Within balance that [strategy] strikes me as a prudent strategy because at this stage you don’t know what technology will succeed,” said Richard Jones, the deputy executive director of the International Energy Agency.

The UAE seems to be looking at any available alternatives, expressing interest in a new nuclear fuel that cannot be used to make weapons.
Thorium, a radioactive material that was used in the mid-20th century in conjunction with uranium to create nuclear power, presents an alternative source for nuclear energy. The UAE has been working with Lightbridge, an American nuclear energy consulting firm developing the technology for making commercially viable nuclear fuel from thorium.

Last year, the company’s chief executive, Seth Grae, spent six months at the UAE’s Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, working with the country on commercial deployment as well as independent regulation. The UAE first got in touch with Lightbridge because of alternative technology, Grae said. “By replacing much of the uranium with thorium in a very high-tech proprietary design, it reduced the plutonium by 85 percent,” he said.

The waste contains plutonium in a mix with other materials, in a manner that is unusable for nuclear weapons. “Ironically, some countries in the Middle East are looking at diversifying so they don’t have to rely on their neighbors for oil,” Grae said. The ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium during nuclear energy power generation is a source of concern when countries declare their intention to develop nuclear programs.

Lightbridge has been testing the fuel in Russia for five years in existing nuclear power plants. Grae does not expect the technology to be viable until 2017, after the company has tested on full-length rods and ensures those rods can be used in commercial reactors. The UAE’s four planned nuclear power facilities are set to be operational by 2020.

If the power plants are working by then, the UAE will be the first Arab country to use nuclear power, but it likely won’t be the last. Karasik said Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Libya are all interested in nuclear power to ensure they can meet their electrical needs and in February Jordan announced its own nuclear program.

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