Saturday, November 27, 2010

UAE: UAE Closer to Going Nuclear with Help from Britain

The UK royal party and hosts during their UAE visit | Credit: WAM

By Bernhard Schell Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

ABU DHABI (IDN) - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has launched on plans to set up on its own an ambitious nuclear power programme with significant capacity being on line by 2020. A first important step towards that ambitious goal was taken when Britain and the UAE agreed on a civil nuclear cooperation deal alongside the reaffirmation of a friendship treaty between the two states.

The documents were signed on November 25, 2010 at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi by the British foreign secretary William Hague and UAE minister of foreign affairs Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan during a state visit by Queen Elizabeth II.

Statements released through UAE state news agency WAM and the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) did not give further details on the nuclear cooperation agreement, although a Memorandum of Understanding on nuclear cooperation was signed by the two countries in May 2008.

The main focus of the signing ceremony was a formal declaration reaffirming a 1971 Friendship Treaty which confirmed that the states would consult together on matters of mutual concern in time of need and encouraged educational, scientific and cultural cooperation.

The new declaration, according to the FCO, "celebrates strong cooperation between the UK and the UAE in areas such as defence and security, energy, trade, education and culture, and records a determination to build ever closer relations to the mutual benefit of the two nations." The nuclear agreement is seen as exemplifying this.

The ceremony took place in the presence of the British royal party including Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edninburgh and the Duke of York, who acts as a special representative for UK trade interests.

According to the World Nuclear News (WNN), the UAE is working towards starting a nuclear power programme, and in December 2009 accepted a bid from a South Korean consortium to construct four APR1400 reactors by 2020. A site at Braka has been selected and site preparation and limited construction licences have been granted, with a full construction licence application expected to be lodged before the end of 2010.

The UAE already has nuclear cooperation agreements in place with the USA, South Korea and France, in addition to a Memorandum of Understanding with Japan.

The Arab Gulf state is taking deliberate steps in close consultation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to embark upon a nuclear power programme. It has accepted a $20 billion bid from a South Korean consortium to build four commercial nuclear power reactors, total 5.6 GWe, by 2020

The UAE was founded in 1971, comprising seven states including Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Abu Dhabi city is the federal capital of UAE, and Abu Dhabi emirate accounts for 86% of the land area of UAE, and 95% of its oil. Dubai is the UAE's largest city.


Since commencing studies in collaboration with other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the UAE has proceeded with plans to set up on its own an ambitious nuclear power programme with significant capacity being on line by 2020.

In December 2006 the six member states of the GCC -- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar and Oman -- announced that the Council was commissioning a study on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. France agreed to work with them on this, and Iran pledged assistance with nuclear technology.

Together they produce 273 billion kWh per year, all from fossil fuels (2003) and 5-7% annual demand growth. They have total installed capacity of about 80 GWe, with a common grid. There is also a large demand for desalination, currently fuelled by oil and gas. A 2009 report projects GCC electricity demand increasing 10% annually to 2015, and desalination demand growing at 8%, implying the need for 60 GWe of new capacity by 2015.

In February 2007 the six states agreed with the IAEA to cooperate on a feasibility study for a regional nuclear power and desalination programme. Saudi Arabia was leading the investigation and thought that a programme might emerge about 2009.

The six nations are all signatories of the NPT and the UAE ratified a safeguards agreement with IAEA in 2003. In mid 2008 it appointed an ambassador to IAEA.


In 2006 the UAE produced 66.8 billion kWh gross, 98% of it from gas. It has about 18 GWe capacity. Electricity demand is growing by 9% per year and is expected to require 40 GWe of capacity by 2020.

In April 2008 the UAE independently published a comprehensive policy on nuclear energy. This projected escalating electricity demand from 15.5 GWe in 2008 to over 40 GWe in 2020, with natural gas supplies sufficient for only half of this.

Imported coal was dismissed as an option due to environmental and energy security implications. Renewables would be able to supply only 6-7% of the needed power by 2020.

Nuclear power "emerged as a proven, environmentally promising and commercially competitive option which could make a significant base-load contribution to the UAE's economy and future energy security," WNN says.

Hence 20 GWe nuclear was envisaged from about 14 plants, with nearly one quarter of this operating by 2020. Two reactors were envisaged for a site between Abu Dhabi city and Ruwais, and a third possibly at Al Fujayrah on the Indian Ocean coast.

Another site mentioned is As Sila, in the far west of UAE close to the Saudi border, where it could readily supply Qatar and Bahrain.

Accordingly, and as recommended by the IAEA, the UAE established a Nuclear Energy Programme Implementation Organization which set up the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) as an Abu Dhabi public entity, initially funded with $100 million, to evaluate and implement nuclear power plans within UAE (or specifically in Abu Dhabi emirate, which comprises 86% of the land area of UAE).

The UAE announced that it would "offer joint-venture arrangements to foreign investors for the construction and operation of future nuclear power plants" similar to existing Independent Water and Power Producer structures which have 60% owned by the government and 40% by the JV partner(s).

The UAE set up a model of managing its nuclear power programme based on contractor services rather than more slowly establishing indigenous expertise.

The UAE also resolved to forego domestic enrichment and reprocessing, and "to conclude long-term arrangements …. for the secure supply of nuclear fuel, as well as the safe and secure transportation and, if available, the disposal of spent fuel via fuel leasing or other emerging fuel supply arrangements."