Peaceful Nuclear Energy

The UAE is pursuing a peaceful, civilian nuclear energy program that upholds the highest standards of safety, security, nonproliferation and operational transparency. Government officials, nonproliferation advocates and energy experts worldwide have called the UAE’s approach a gold standard for countries interested in exploring nuclear energy for the first time.

The Need for Electricity

The development of a peaceful, civilian nuclear energy program was based on an in-depth evaluation of the UAE’s future energy needs. An initial study determined that national annual peak demand for electricity is likely to rise to more than 40,000 megawatts by 2020, reflecting a cumulative annual growth rate of about 9 percent from 2007.

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 desirable, would be able to supply only 6 to 7 percent of the required electricity generation capacity by 2020.

The UAE Policy on Nuclear Energy

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:

  1. The UAE is committed to complete operational transparency.
  2. The UAE is committed to pursuing the highest standards of non-proliferation.
  3. The UAE is committed to the highest standards of safety and security.
  4. The UAE works directly with the IAEA and conforms to its standards in evaluating and establishing its peaceful nuclear energy program.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 key entities implementing the UAE’s 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).
  • Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC).  A corporation, wholly Abu Dhabi-owned, charged with developing nuclear power plants within the UAE.  ENEC is responsible for the construction of Abu Dhabi’s nuclear plants.
  • International Advisory Board. An advisory body comprised of nine former heads of national regulatory bodies, nuclear industry leaders and recognized academic authorities. It reports directly to the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and provides independent assessments of the status and performance of the various entities associated with the UAE civil nuclear program, as well as analyzes progress made in addressing any areas of potential concern. The IAB meets at least twice a year and publishes its public report semiannually.

ENEC announced in December 2009 that it had selected a consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) to design, build and help operate civil nuclear power plants for the UAE peaceful nuclear energy program. The KEPCO team includes US-based Westinghouse.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation plans to build four nuclear reactors, which are under construction at a site in Barakah, in the western region of the UAE. The four reactors will provide 5.6 gigawatts of low-carbon electricity to the national grid. The first reactor is scheduled to start operations in 2017, and the second one is scheduled for a year later. The remaining two reactors are expected to begin operating in 2019 and 2020.

This nuclear energy program is expected to meet nearly 25 percent of the UAE’s energy needs by 2020. It will supply safe, clean, reliable and efficient electricity. The reactors will also have zero carbon emissions, furthering the UAE’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

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 between the two countries.

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