READY TO LEAD THE DRYLANDS
Lady Barbara Judge CBE has strong views on subjects ranging from nuclear power to gender equality in the oil and gas sector. She also believes that Qatar has the right conditions to pursue nuclear energy.
Executive Director Badr Omar Al Dafa announced to the diplomatic community in Doha that the Global Drylands Alliance is all set to launch this May.
If Lady Barbara Judge, Member of the UAE Advisory Board for the Development of Peaceful Nuclear Energy, looks formidable in her customary dark suit, high-collared, stiff white shirt, and her white blonde hair tucked into a stern bun at the nape of her head, it is deliberate. Everything about her especially her outfit, which doesn't change much around the year, is resolute. “Men are uncomfortable around women and why dress in provocative outfits when you need them to listen to what you have to say?” she asks. “I want men to be so bored with my outfit that they have to focus on what I am saying.” And in that sense, the Arab women's culture of dressing – the black abaya – resonates with her; she says, “You cannot go wrong with that.”
Lady Judge believes very strongly in equality in the workplace, encouraging women to enter the workplace and, once they are there, push the boundaries, all because of the simple wisdom passed on to her by her mother: “Women should work not because they are poor or alone, divorced or single, not any of that, [ but] because they have a brain, they should use it and they should earn their own money. Money is independence and they should be independent.”
Speaking at the Gulf Intelligence Women in Energy Summit held last month in Doha on “Historical Setting – One Woman's 50Year Journey,” Lady Judge recounted her career highs and some roadblocks faced and scaled in an era when women professionals were rare, especially in corporate boardrooms. She started her career as a corporate lawyer in 1969 and became a partner at Kaye Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler in 1978. One reason she was hired, she recounts, was because they wanted a woman to fill the position. Half a decade later, she still believes in the quota system: “You need to first get onto the ladder in order to climb to the top.”
But gender balance in the industry is not the only subject that excites Lady Judge; it is also clean energy and specifically nuclear energy. In 2002 she was appointed as a Director of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, became its Chairman in 2004 and was reappointed in 2007. After completing two terms she was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Tepco Nuclear Reform Committee and Chairman of its Task Force on Nuclear Safety.
Her tryst with the Middle East began seven years ago, when she was last in Doha, to give a talk on clean energy. She had then predicted that the Middle East countries are best suited for nuclear power projects because these countries meet the conditions necessary to initiate this form of renewable energy. “A stable political climate, a rich country that can afford to build and maintain a nuclear power plant, a strong and enlightened leadership, high education levels and an intelligent press that can comprehend and report the truth to make the general public aware of the process and the safety measures,” she says, ticking off the conditions needed for a country to pursue nuclear energy.
“I predicted then that sooner or later the GCC countries will have nuclear energy,” she says. “And the naysayers scoffed at my statement.”
Seven months later, Lady Judge was in Abu Dhabi and met the ruler there, who expressed an interest in nuclear energy. Now Abu Dhabi is in the process of building a nuclear power plant and Lady Judge is on the Advisory Board. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, Unit 1 is expected to provide electricity to the grid by 2017 and will be the first one in the region. Plans are on for the following three units to be completed in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Saudi Arabia, with 16% of the world's proven oil reserves and being the largest exporter of total petroleum liquids in the world, has started to think of nuclear power plants. “Things are changing. Oil and gas is not forever,” she says. While Qataris earlier had said that they were not interested in nuclear energy, according to Lady Judge, they are now considering the benefits from
this source of energy as their neighbours are strongly pursuing it.
“They have the risk anyway, being in close proximity to Emirates Nuclear Energy Plant and Saudi Arabia (when it will build its own reactor). There are also talks of having a regional power plant, and I feel that's the best way to go, by joining workforce, education and resources,” she says.
“I strongly believe that Qatar with a knowledge-based economy has all the conditions for nuclear energy to thrive,” she says.
Predictions aside, it is necessary for every country to have a diversified energy mix, states Lady Judge. “Any country that aims at having energy security or energy independence would need to have a bouquet of energy sources; it needs oil, it needs gas, it needs renewables for people to feel good about carbon emissions and it needs nuclear energy,” she emphasises.
Climate change is another factor that makes nuclear energy lucrative. But what about solar energy, the most abundant source of energy in the desert region? Doesn't it seem more practical to opt for this renewable source than an option that comes with its own set of risks? Which source should a country lean towards in this scenario?
“There is no choice,” she says. “It should be a mixture of all sources of energy.”
“Solar is an excellent source of energy in conditions that are favourable but it is still a top-up source of energy. Nuclear is a baseload energy source. There may be days when there is less sun or still air. When this source of energy fails you could find yourself in darkness. What you really need is a combination,” she clarifies.
Parts of the world at large seem to be against nuclear power as a source of energy. Germany is a perfect example, with all nuclear power plants shut down. “It is all a political decision in Germany,” says Lady Judge. “It demonstrates how wrong it is to turn away from nuclear energy. Germany is now buying nuclear energy from neighbouring France and gas from Russia. It is also burning coal and its carbon emissions are going up. The country has gone from being an energy exporter to an energy importer practically overnight, which brings along with it a number of negative consequences for its economy, consumers and security.”
But it is also not true that the world is losing its nuclear energy supporters after the Fukushima incident. According to a survey done some time back, the support for nuclear power appeared to have bounced back in the UK after falling slightly in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster and, as a result of the renewed trust shown by the people, the UK is now building three power plants.
Now there are even more countries pursuing or building nuclear energy plants than there were before the Japan mishap; Turkey, Vietnam, Korea, China, India and Finland, are all building nuclear power plants. Poland and Hungary are also in the process of discussing prospects.
Lady Judge debunks another myth: Even though the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March of 2011 was a disaster of epic proportions, it was these natural disastesr that left over 15,000 people dead and over 300,000 homeless. There was a very serious accident at Fukushima but, contrary to the hype and fear, no one died due to the radiation. The problem arose because people had to be evacuated from their homes. Today, the food supply is safe and people are starting to move back into their homes and most of the other nuclear plants in Japan are considering a restart.
As the Deputy Chairman of the Tepco Nuclear Reform Committee and Chairman of its Task Force on Nuclear Safety, Lady Judge feels that having a woman representative from outside the country is symbolic of the change that Japan is undergoing currently. She even has her own insights on the ongoing antagonism for nuclear energy projects: “The problem in America, France and UK is that it is highly educated women who are the most vocal against nuclear energy,” she says, and they are the ones who need to be convinced about the safety aspects of radiation. Education is vital according to Lady Judge and it is only through enlightening the masses that the message of nuclear energy can be spread.
“Abu Dhabi is doing it the right way,” she says. “Educating the masses through movies and public shows, talk shows at schools and galleries.”