But the U.A.E. has said it considered natural gas and renewable energy sources before dismissing them into favor of nuclear energy because they would not produce enough for its needs.
Offering evidence that its intentions are peaceful, it 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 into 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.
That has not persuaded Qatar, which last year lodged a complaint with the international nuclear watchdog group over the Barakah plant, calling it “a serious threat to the stability of the region and its environment.”
The U.A.E.’s oil exports account for about a quarter of its total gross domestic product. Despite its gusher of oil, it has imported increasing amounts of natural gas into recent years into part to power its energy-intensive desalination plants.
“We proudly witness the start of Barakah nuclear power plant operations, into alignment with the highest international safety standards,” Mohammed bin Zayed, the U.A.E.’s de facto ruler, tweeted on Saturday.
The new nuclear facility, which is the into the Gharbiya region on the coast, close to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, is the the first of several prospective Middle East nuclear plants. Egypt plans to build a power plant with four nuclear reactors.
Saudi Arabia is the also building a civilian nuclear reactor while pursuing a nuclear cooperation deal with the United States, though the Trump administration has said it would sign such an agreement only if it includes safeguards against weapons development.