ABU DHABI // The Government has agreed to stringent inspections of its nuclear facilities as it works towards the expected launch this year of a US$60 billion (Dh220bn) investment in atomic energy. The agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency strengthens the UAE's commitment to non-proliferation as the country pushes forward with a civil nuclear power programme aimed at meeting the nation's growing electricity needs over the next century.
"This is an important step for the United Arab Emirates, and another demonstration of our nation's commitment to complete operational transparency and the highest standards of non-proliferation," Hamad al Kaabi, the UAE's permanent representative to the IAEA, was quoted as saying by WAM, the state news agency. He signed the agreement, or "Additional Protocol", yesterday in Vienna with Dr Mohamed el Baradei, the IAEA's director general.
The IAEA describes the protocol as "a confidence-building measure, an early warning mechanism" to ensure nuclear programmes are not used for weapons. Among other measures, the protocol establishes a procedure for snap inspections of nuclear facilities, and sets guidelines for allowing inspectors access to sites and information. The obligations that stem from the protocol and other international instruments will be taken into account in a forthcoming nuclear law and associated regulations in the UAE, WAM reported.
The need for a nuclear component in the nation's energy sources was defined in a policy paper last year, in which the country's energy demand was forecast to more than double by 2020 to 40 gigawatts. The UAE spelt out a commitment to non-proliferation, and included the decision to forgo enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel, establishing a new model through which non-nuclear states may explore and potentially deploy nuclear energy with the full support and confidence of the international community.
Power generation using natural gas is expected to meet 20-25 gigawatts of the total by 2020. While alternatives such as coal and oil were considered, they would only have worsened the country's already large carbon footprint. The Government is promoting other green technologies with an emphasis on solar energy, but those sources are expected to contribute just seven per cent of total power by 2020.
The UAE has prequalified dozens of companies for September's expected tender to design, build and operate reactors. Next month, it is likely to shortlist two or three integrated teams of companies that would work together on the tender. France, the US, South Korea and Japan are all expected to complete bilateral treaties with the Emirates by then, enabling their companies to participate fully in the tender, which could entail the construction of 10 reactors over a decade to meet almost half the nation's expected energy needs. The Government has announced its intention to choose a single design for the entire programme to simplify the operation.