Abu Dhabi: Nuclear energy is expected to account for roughly 16 per cent of the world’s total electricity generation in the next 20 years — up from the current 11 per cent figure, according to a top official at the World Nuclear Association (WNA).

While nuclear energy has the capacity to account for 25 per cent of the world’s energy needs, challenges arise in financing, which may limit power generation from the sector.

“In the next 20 years, I would expect that nuclear energy would not only hold itself; but its contribution to capacity will increase.

The challenge is whether the figure can reach 25 per cent because the capability of the industry is almost 25 per cent, but then external factors like political and financial decisions need to be managed. So, it won’t achieve the 25 per cent is what my guess is,” said Shah Nawaz Ahmad, senior adviser for India, Middle East, and South-East Asia at the WNA.

He added that in a 10-year timeframe, countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Jordan are expected to start building nuclear power plants.

“The Malaysian government is also considering building [nuclear power plants], and so is the Indonesian government. How many of these countries will actually eventually build plants is a question because financing is still a problem,” Ahmad told Gulf News.

Another challenge in the sector is public perception, which continues to view nuclear energy as unsafe on the back of incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima.

“Luckily, the company that the UAE has chosen to build plants will be operating similar nuclear plants in its home country [of Korea]. Therefore, this gives you an assurance that even if some problems are to come online, you will not be given theoretical solutions; you’ll be given practical solutions,” he said.

Ahmad was in the UAE this week to speak at the Power-Gen Middle East conference, which was held from October 4-6 at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec).

In his speech, Ahmad said that the UAE is projected to require 40 gigawatts of electric energy capacity by 2020, with a growing urgency to generate energy through renewable sources.

Such urgency is also spreading in other countries across the GCC, with Saudi Arabia currently burning roughly one billion barrels of oil per year to produce electricity — an equivalent of 1.5 million barrels per day.

Discussing nuclear energy in the UAE, Ahmad said that developing the sector will allow the country to market oil at higher prices for export, especially to countries with oil deficiency.

“After the first stage of the four [reactors], the UAE would have satisfied much of the energy needs of the GCC — other than Saudi Arabia. Then, the UAE could be looking for exports … and the way I see these figures is that for the next plant, almost 30 per cent exports may be there,” he said.