Peaceful Nuclear Energy
As part of the UAE’s Energy Strategy 2050, 50 percent of the national energy supply will be generated by clean sources by midcentury. To achieve these goals, the UAE is pursuing a peaceful nuclear energy program that upholds the highest standards of nuclear safety, security, nonproliferation and operational transparency. Government officials, nonproliferation advocates and energy experts worldwide have highlighted the UAE’s approach as the new benchmark for countries interested in exploring nuclear energy for the first time.
The UAE Policy on Nuclear Energy
The development of a peaceful nuclear energy program was based on an in-depth evaluation of the UAE’s future energy needs, with studies showing annual demand growing at an average rate of 4% per annum.
The UAE then studied options to meet this demand. This evaluation was wide-ranging and resulted in the following realizations:
- Natural gas could be made available to the Nation's electricity sector but it would be insufficient to meet future demand.
- The burning of liquids (crude oil and/or diesel) would be logistically viable but costly and extremely harmful to the environment.
- Coal-fired power generation, while potentially cheaper, would be environmentally unacceptable, and potentially vulnerable from a security of supply standpoint.
- And finally, deployment of renewable and other alternative energy supplies, while a key component of the overall energy strategy, would not be able to meet the required electricity generation capacity given the intermittent nature of these sources and current available technology.
In developing a nuclear energy policy, the UAE Government made its peaceful objectives clear. A policy document released in April 2008 outlined a series of commitments, including the decision to forgo domestic enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel, the two parts of the nuclear fuel cycle that can most readily be used for non-peaceful purposes. Additional commitments include:
- The UAE is committed to complete operational transparency.
- The UAE is committed to pursuing the highest standards of non-proliferation.
- The UAE is committed to the highest standards of safety and security.
- The UAE works directly with the IAEA and conforms to its standards in evaluating and establishing its peaceful nuclear energy program.
- The UAE is developing its peaceful domestic nuclear power capability in partnership with the governments and firms of responsible nations, as well as with the assistance of appropriate expert organizations.
- The UAE is committed to conducting its peaceful domestic nuclear power program in a manner that best ensures long-term sustainability.
These policies are enshrined in a number of laws and accords, including the UAE Nuclear Law, signed in October 2009.
In April 2009, the UAE and IAEA signed the Additional Protocol to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, which establishes a procedure for stringent inspections of nuclear facilities and operations.
The UAE Nuclear Law takes into account the obligations that stem from the Additional Protocol and other international instruments. The UAE views the application of a comprehensive safeguards agreement, bolstered by the IAEA Additional Protocol, as an important component of its model for the adoption of peaceful nuclear energy and as being consistent with its commitment to complete operational transparency and the highest standards of non-proliferation.
The UAE has signed bilateral cooperation agreements in the field of peaceful nuclear energy with numerous countries, including France, the United States, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Russia, Argentina and Japan.
Nuclear Energy Infrastructure and Implementation
The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) announced in December 2009 that it had selected a consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) to design, build and help operate the civil nuclear energy plant to be developed as the cornerstone of the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program. The KEPCO team includes US-based Westinghouse.
Once all four units of the plant are commercially operating, the UAE's Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant will produce up to 25 percent of the country's electricity requirements while in parallel preventing the release of 21 million tons of carbon emissions each year (this is equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars off the roads annually). It will supply safe, clean, reliable and efficient electricity to the UAE grid.
Pending regulatory approval from the national regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), Unit 1 of the UAE's first nuclear energy plant will commence the loading of the first nuclear fuel assemblies in early 2020 to prepare for the start-up and subsequent operations to generate clean and efficient electricity for homes, businesses and civil utilities across the country. The remaining three units will come online over the course of the coming years as part of a comprehensive schedule.
The key entities implementing the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program are the:
- Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). An independent federal agency charged with regulation and licensing of all nuclear energy activities in the UAE with public safety as its primary objective. It is headed by Christer Viktorsson, a former high-level official with the Swedish Nuclear Safety Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As of January 2020, FANR has conducted over 255 inspections of the Barakah plant and related facilities, as well as related facilities in the US and Republic of Korea.
- Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC). A corporation, wholly Abu Dhabi-owned, charged with developing nuclear energy plants within the UAE. ENEC is responsible for the construction of Abu Dhabi’s nuclear plants and the development of human capacity and a local nuclear energy sector.
- Barakah One Company. A subsidiary formed through the 2016 Joint Venture partnership formed by ENEC and KEPCO. ENEC owns 82% and KEPCO owns 18% of Barakah One Company, which is responsible for managing the commercial and financial interests of the project.
- Nawah Energy Company. A subsidiary formed through the 2016 Joint Venture partnership formed by ENEC and KEPCO. ENEC owns 82% and KEPCO owns 18% of Nawah Energy Company, which is responsible for operating and maintaining the four units of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant.
In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Association of Nuclear Operators have conducted over 40 missions and reviews of the UAE Program to date, the Barakah plant and the operations team to ensure all activities are aligned with international best practices.
US-UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Cooperation
In December 2009, a US-UAE bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation went into effect, enhancing international standards of nuclear non-proliferation, safety and security. Known as a “123 Agreement,” the pact establishes a required legal framework for commerce in civilian nuclear energy technology between the two countries. Over the past ten years, the landmark agreement has been held as best practice by US officials across administrations and nonproliferation experts for its commitment to safety, security and operational transparency.
Senator Sam Nunn, a nonproliferation expert and former chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, cited the UAE’s leadership in safe and transparent nuclear energy development as “an especially powerful example” for other countries to emulate. "We are very grateful for the important leadership of the UAE in showing the world how nuclear power can be advanced safely, without contributing to nuclear proliferation dangers,” he said.
A number of US firms are involved in the UAE nuclear energy program:
- Westinghouse, headquartered in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, is part of the KEPCO team and is providing major components; instrumentation and control equipment; and design technical and engineering support services.
- Virginia-based Lightbridge Corporation has provided consulting services to the UAE on the design, development and management of the key organizations required to implement a nuclear energy program according to the highest international standards.
- Englewood, Colorado-based CH2M Hill won a 10-year contract to manage the UAE's nuclear program in October 2008.
- Paul C. Rizzo Associates, a leading global engineering and consulting firm based in Pennsylvania, worked on site placement and engineering during the planning process.
Other Steps to Support Nonproliferation
Non-proliferation instruments concluded by the UAE:
- IAEA Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1995)
- IAEA Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (2003)
- IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (2003)
- UN Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (2000)
- UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004)
- UN International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005)
- IAEA Additional Protocol to Safeguards Agreement
- IAEA Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities