UAE and Australia to sign major nuclear deal

The UAE is to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with the holder of the world's biggest uranium reserves tomorrow, paving the way for a major fuel supply contract.

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The UAE will today sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with the holder of the world's biggest uranium reserves.

The Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, is due to arrive in Abu Dhabi to sign the treaty with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said government officials.

It paves the way for Australia to win a slice of a lucrative 15-year contract to supply uranium for Abu Dhabi's US$20 billion (Dh73.5bn) atomic power plant.

Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) has been in commercial negotiations since July last year with several bidders.

"We are still evaluating and we're still negotiating," said Fahad Al Qahtani, Enec's director of external affairs and communications. "We're focusing on getting the best deal possible."

Enec is expected to sign multiple suppliers to ensure fuel security. Government-to-government nuclear treaties with other nations, including Canada, Russia and Japan, are underway. The UAE already has such agreements with the United States, United Kingdom, France and South Korea.

It remains to be seen whether the UAE will be able to pursue a strategy of fuel leasing, in which spent nuclear fuel would be sent back to the supplier country. Called a "cradle-to-grave" approach, it has yet to be fully implemented for commercial-sized reactors anywhere in the world.

Australia and Russia, among others, have talked about the merits of fuel leasing for controlling the spread of material that could be used to make a nuclear weapon. But many nations forbid the return of spent fuel.

"When a country says, 'We'll take the fuel back,' then you can rely on such a strategy," said Hamad Al Kaabi, the UAE permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency. "The reality today is such arrangements have some challenges. These challenges are related to legal and public acceptance issues."