How Saudi Arabia’s nuclear power will play a role against climate change

Updated 30 January 2019
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How Saudi Arabia’s nuclear power will play a role against climate change

  • With Saudi Arabia planning to develop reactors, experts are talking about the environmental benefits

As nuclear power is increasingly being seen as a key element in tackling climate change, Saudi Arabia is moving toward adopting the renewable energy source.

According to a report last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a large increase in nuclear power could help keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees Centigrade, a target set as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

But to achieve that target, experts say the world needs to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions almost immediately.

“The IPCC report made clear the necessity of nuclear energy as an important part of an effective global response,” Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association, told Arab News. 

“Nuclear power is the only form of electricity generation that can deliver constantly, reliably, 24/7 without the production of greenhouse gas emissions. A nuclear power plant also takes up a much smaller area, in contrast to many renewables such as wind or solar.”

Dr. Peter Bode, former associate professor of nuclear science and technology at the Delft University in the Netherlands, said: “The need for electricity will increase by the conversion to electric cars for the next decade, and hydrogen-driven cars beyond 2030. Hydrogen gas is generated from water but also needs electricity, while a single nuclear power station produces energy equivalent to hundreds of wind turbines.”

Nuclear power is seen as especially well-suited to and beneficial in the Middle East, where energy demand is growing rapidly. 

“It’s difficult to see alternatives in the Middle East for electricity needs without nuclear power as a major component in the energy mix,” Bode said. “In addition, nuclear power plants generate jobs.”

Across the region, countries are opting for the nuclear route. Construction of the Barakah nuclear power plant in the UAE is nearing completion, and all four reactors are expected to generate in the next few years. 

Saudi Arabia has outlined ambitious plans for the development of nuclear generation, including next-generation reactors. 

“Nuclear power is well-suited to meeting future energy needs in the Middle East. Energy demand in the region has risen rapidly in recent decades and is expected to continue to grow, with the development of large urban areas with high populations,” Rising said.

Sources: International Atomic Energy Agency, International Energy Agency

“The ability to generate more than 1 gigawatt of electricity from a compact plant makes nuclear generation well-suited to meet this demand.” 

 Last July, Saudi Arabia invited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct its Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review. 

A team assessed the status of the Kingdom’s nuclear power infrastructure development, while providing detailed guidance. 

Last week, the review was handed to Dr. Khalid Al-Sultan, president of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in Riyadh. It will be made public in 90 days.

“Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in the development of its nuclear power infrastructure,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA deputy director general and head of the department of nuclear energy. 

“It has established a legislative framework and carried out comprehensive studies to support the next steps of the program.” 

The Kingdom has developed a national action plan, and earlier this month it had its first meeting to discuss the plan with the IAEA. 

“This is indicative of the commitment of Saudi Arabia to make progress and to move the program forward,” Chudakov said. 

“While the IAEA can provide support, the responsibility for closing any gaps and moving the program forward lies with the (Kingdom).”

Nuclear plants can also be used for desalination — on which the region relies heavily — and supplying industrial heat. 

“Developing nuclear energy technologies will bring a lot of benefits to the Middle East,” Rising said. 

“But countries should ensure that there’s a level playing field in their energy markets,” in which “nuclear energy is treated equally with other low-carbon technologies and recognized for its value in a reliable, resilient, low-carbon energy mix.”

She said countries should also ensure that there is an effective safety paradigm that focuses on genuine public wellbeing, and where the health, environmental and safety benefits of nuclear power are better understood and valued compared with other energy sources.

Dr. John Bernhard, former Danish ambassador to the IAEA, said: “Though renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal are becoming increasingly important, it’s clear that in the foreseeable future they’re far from able to meet the increasing global clean energy demands, especially in countries with fast-growing industrial development. So it’s essential to maintain, or when possible increase, the role of nuclear power as part of the energy mix.”

Public acceptance will prove crucial in that transition. Dr. Kenji Yamaji, director general of the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth in Tokyo and a nuclear physicist, said: “Potential contributions to climate-change mitigation by nuclear power would be huge if the nuclear option is considered by the public as a socially acceptable energy choice.”

He added: “There remains strong public concern over nuclear safety in Japan after the Fukushima accident. But the Middle East is an attractive new nuclear market, and strong government support will be key.”


Doctors use HIV in gene therapy to fix ‘bubble boy’ disease

In this April 2019 photo provided by the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 2-year old Gael Jesus Pino Alva is held by his mother, Giannina Alva, at the hospital in Memphis. (AP)
Updated 18 min 14 sec ago
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Doctors use HIV in gene therapy to fix ‘bubble boy’ disease

  • It affects 1 in 200,000 newborns, almost exclusively males. Without treatment, it often kills in the first year or two of life

WASHINGTON: They were born without a working germ-fighting system, every infection a threat to their lives. Now eight babies with “bubble boy disease” have had it fixed by a gene therapy made from one of the immune system’s worst enemies — HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A study out Wednesday details how scientists turned this enemy virus into a savior, altering it so it couldn’t cause disease and then using it to deliver a gene the boys lacked.
“This therapy has cured the patients,” although it will take more time to see if it’s a permanent fix, said Dr. Ewelina Mamcarz, one of the study leaders at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Omarion Jordan, who turns 1 later this month, had the therapy in December to treat severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome, or SCID.
“For a long time we didn’t know what was wrong with him. He just kept getting these infections,” said his mother, Kristin Simpson. Learning that he had SCID “was just heartbreaking ... I didn’t know what was going to happen to him.”
Omarion now has a normal immune system. “He’s like a normal, healthy baby,” Simpson said. “I think it’s amazing.”
Study results were published by the New England Journal of Medicine. The treatment was pioneered by a St. Jude doctor who recently died, Brian Sorrentino.
SCID is caused by a genetic flaw that keeps the bone marrow from making effective versions of blood cells that comprise the immune system. It affects 1 in 200,000 newborns, almost exclusively males. Without treatment, it often kills in the first year or two of life.
“A simple infection like the common cold could be fatal,” Mamcarz said.
The nickname “bubble boy disease” comes from a famous case in the 1970s — a Texas boy who lived for 12 years in a protective plastic bubble to isolate him from germs. A bone marrow transplant from a genetically matched sibling can cure SCID, but most people lack a suitable donor. Transplants also are medically risky — the Texas boy died after one.
Doctors think gene therapy could be a solution. It involves removing some of a patient’s blood cells, using the modified HIV to insert the missing gene, and returning the cells through an IV. Before getting their cells back, patients are given a drug to destroy some of their marrow so the modified cells have more room to grow.
When doctors first tried it 20 years ago, the treatment had unintended effects on other genes, and some patients later developed leukemia. The new therapy has safeguards to lower that risk.
A small study of older children suggested it was safe. The new study tried it in infants, and doctors are reporting on the first eight who were treated at St. Jude and at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.
Within a few months, normal levels of healthy immune system cells developed in seven boys. The eighth needed a second dose of gene therapy but now is well, too. Six to 24 months after treatment, all eight are making all the cell types needed to fight infections, and some have successfully received vaccines to further boost their immunity to disease.
No serious or lasting side effects occurred.
Omarion is the 10th boy treated in the study, which is ongoing. It’s sponsored by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the Assisi Foundation of Memphis and the federal government.
“So far it really looks good,” but patients will have to be studied to see if the results last, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped develop the treatment. “To me, this looks promising.”
Rights to it have been licensed by St. Jude to Mustang Bio. Doctors say they have no estimate on what it might cost if it does become an approved treatment. They say they also hope to try it for more common problems such as sickle cell disease.