Nuclear company wants to know your reaction

The company charged with building the UAE's first nuclear reactors has hired a market research firm to gauge public acceptance two months after breaking ground on the proposed site.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation booth at the World Future Energy Summit. Enec will answer questions about seismic history and safety measures following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
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The company building the nation's first nuclear reactors wants to know how you feel about the project.

Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) has hired an international market research firm to assess popular sentiment about the US$20 billion (Dh73.45bn) plan to bring nuclear power to the UAE in the next seven years. TNS, part of the advertising and marketing company WPP, began interviewing residents this month.

"The reason for hiring them was getting a neutral third party to verify the acceptance," said Fahad al Qahtani, the acting director for external affairs and communications at Enec. "First of all we wanted to measure the awareness of the project, how many people know about it, and then measure the understanding, and then measure the associations."

The results, due next month, will help shape Enec's communications strategy, which like the rest of the UAE nuclear industry, is in its infancy.

So far Enec has chosen to interact with the public through town-hall forums, briefings for stakeholders such as the UAE Armed Forces, and sponsoring sports events in the Western Region, the proposed site for the four planned nuclear reactors.

Enec is also answering questions about seismic history and safety measures following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March, which damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant.Since announcing its nuclear programme in 2008, the UAE has showcased a policy of transparency.

In turn, experienced nuclear powers including France and the US have embraced the UAE through co-operation agreements and, in September, a nod of approval in the form of a seat on the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global nuclear watchdog.

Enec has been reluctant to discuss specifics of the programme, in part because each aspect must be approved by the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, the UAE regulator. Releasing technical details before they are approved could jeopardise the licensing process.

Enec is working with counterparts in South Korea, where a consortium won the contract to supply and run the UAE's first reactors, on ways to integrate education about nuclear power into schools. South Korea recruited schools and science camps to boost support for its civil nuclear programme when it was starting up its first reactor in the 1970s, said Hee Young Lee, a senior vice president at Korea Electric Power Corporation.

"We explained the necessity of nuclear power development to the public," he said on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai last month. "First of all we had to make the people understand nuclear power as a semi-national resource, and then through actual performance of the nuclear power plants, we make the people assured of the safety."

ayee@thenational.ae