UAE's nuclear power programme on track

An international review board says the UAE's planned nuclear programme needs to establish safeguards against attack and adopt an international framework for liability in case of a nuclear disaster.

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ABU DHABI // The capital's nuclear programme is progressing well but must now begin to pay greater attention to areas surrounding nuclear fuel supply and disposal, and protection of facilities, said a review board set up by the emirate's Government.
The first semi-annual report of the International Advisory Board is a key milestone as Abu Dhabi works to develop the legal framework and to build the first of four reactors in the town of Braka, about 300km south of the capital on the Gulf coast.
The board, headed by Hans Blix, the UN's former top weapons inspector in Iraq, is part of Abu Dhabi's efforts at full transparency in every aspect of the nuclear power project. The report is the first public review of the emirate's plans, covering a range of issues from nuclear waste disposal to protection against threats such as aeroplane crashes.
"It is natural that in the initial phase all attention is focused on the construction and the licensing of the construction," Mr Blix said yesterday. "But the board has also pointed to the fact that its now the point to focus on the safety of the operations and also to think about the fuel assurance and where do they buy the fuel. And, indeed, one day there will be waste, spent fuel, and what will happen to it?"
Mr Blix said it will be years before such issues come to the fore, but "now is the time to begin planning for them." He noted, for example, that legislation concerning the import and export of nuclear equipment and material is needed.
The UAE's ambitious plans to begin producing nuclear power by 2017 would make it the first Arab country to do so. The programme has been hailed as a gold-standard in peaceful nuclear development, for its explicit commitment not to enrich spent fuel, as well as for its commitment to transparency.
"The authorities have responded very loyally and it is indeed in their interest because the government would not have created this board if it were not to be open to us so that we can testify," Mr Blix said. "If we did not feel good we will say so, in the first place to the government, and then in the report."
Other Middle Eastern countries, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have since embarked on their own nuclear energy plans, and the board encouraged greater cooperation between them and other nuclear regulatory schemes around the world. The board has also encouraged Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation to engage with a nuclear power plant in the American state of Arizona, which faces a similar climate to the UAE, for best practices.
A government official familiar with the programme said the government is reviewing formal drafts of legislation to regulate import and export of nuclear materials, as well as a nuclear liability law in the case of a nuclear accident. Both pieces of legislation will be passed into law well before any fuel arrives in the UAE, the official said.
The emirate's Government is now looking at fuel supply options from uranium mining investment to so-called fuel leasing, which would require the supplier to dispose of nuclear waste outside of the country.
The board also addressed the question of how to secure the nuclear plants from an aeroplane crash. The possibility is one that countries with nuclear power have increasingly considered since September 11, 2001, said Hamad al Kaabi, the UAE's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.