Transparency key to nuclear future

The UAE's nuclear energy programme is proceeding apace, but there is much work to be done to fulfill its promise of being transparent, safe and secure.

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'Transparent, safe, secure and peaceful." That was the blueprint for the UAE's nuclear energy programme presented to the United Nations last May. So far, work appears to be proceeding apace, but there is more to be done to fulfil that promise.

One of the strongest cautionary voices has been Hans Blix, the former head of the IAEA. As Mr Blix noted in an interview with The National last April, the challenges to building a nuclear programme from scratch in less than a decade are "considerable".

As we report today, some of those considerations have been allayed. The International Advisory Board, an ad hoc group of observers headed by Mr Blix, has concluded that on most fronts, the UAE is meeting or exceeding benchmarks for nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation.

The IAB's findings, which are not binding, offer an added stamp of approval on a process that is moving ahead at a blistering pace. In 2009, the UAE awarded South Korean firms a master contract to construct four nuclear power plants, the first of which is scheduled to be up and running by 2017. Plans for the first two reactors, to be built in Abu Dhabi's Western Region, were delivered in December.

To this point the Emirate's programme has been well received and the UAE has agreed to forgo domestic enrichment and reprocessing from the start, the capabilities that Iran has been so reluctant to give up. As Jong Kyun Park of the IAEA said following a January visit to the country: "The UAE's nuclear infrastructure is progressing well and in line with the IAEA's guidelines."

As the UAE charts its path on the road to nuclear energy, countless considerations remain. The advisory board notes that adequate consideration has "not yet been given to safety related issues involved in commissioning, operation and maintenance" of facilities. What's more, a complete plan for the storage and disposal of spent fuel needs to be developed.

States in the region have tried to forge their own paths to nuclear energy. But as the release of the IAB report underscores, the UAE's commitment to transparency deserves special consideration.