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The UAE Civil Nuclear Program: Policy Recommendations – Analysis 

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has pursued its civil nuclear programme after careful assessments and close consultations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the late 2000s.

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The UAE government received massive public support to start its own civil nuclear programme for peaceful use of nuclear technology. Then the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority was nominated as the Nuclear Energy Program Implementation and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC)  was established as an Abu Dhabi public entity in 2009. ENEC became the possessor and construction licence holder for the Barakah Nuclear Plant.

Under a US $20 billion contract announced in December 2009, Four Korean-designed APR-1400 reactors were being built at Barakah by a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). The UAE has established a model of operating its nuclear power programme founded on external services rather than developing domestic expertise. First concrete for Barakah 1 was poured in July 2012, while that for units 2-4 was poured in April 2013, September 2014 and July 2015 (WNN, 2021), respectively.

Reactors Operating

Reactor NameModelReactor TypeNet Capacity (MWe)Construction StartFirst Grid Construction
Barakah 1APR-1400PWR1,3452012-072020-08
Barakah 2APR-1400PWR1,3452013-042021-09
Source: World Nuclear Association

Reactors under construction in the UAE

Reactor NameModelGross CapacityConstruction Date
Barakah 3APR-140014002014-09-24
Barakah 4APR-140014002015-07-30
Source: World Nuclear Association

The UAE has the state of the art civil nuclear programme and it has been highly praised by IAEA Director General, Rafael Mariano Grossi, during a visit to UAE in 2021. According to Grossi, “the UAE is an important IAEA partner and the first Arabic speaking country to have a fully-fledged nuclear power programme and UAE’s determinations to foster technical scientific skills in its populace through its national peaceful nuclear and space programmes will help further spur economic development, enable the country to meet its ambitions, and inspire innovation in future generations (Madsen, 2021).”

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In the Arab world, the UAE has become the first country to acquire civil nuclear power programme for peaceful purposes. ENEC has vigorously commented that the Barakah plant is meaningfully supporting to the nation’s determinations to acquire clean and sustainable energy. The UAE has huge potentials and resources to booster its civil nuclear programme. Nuclear energy is the great source of clean power as it maintains air quality by generating substantial amounts of carbon-free electricity. Additionally, nuclear technology is very useful in agriculture, medical diagnosis and treatment, space exploration and scientific investigation.  

However, there are many steps the UAE leadership should take to strengthen its nuclear programme and diplomacy. There are a few policy options and recommendations for the UAE to address the relevant obstacles and  challenges:

Policy Recommendations

Strengthening  Nuclear Safety and Security Culture:

The UAE has installed modern and sophisticated nuclear technology and KEPCO has done its best in developing nuclear power plants in the UAE. However, it is ENER and the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) that has to enhance and strengthen the nuclear safety and security culture. This would help to sustain a safe and secure peaceful nuclear programme in the UAE. As defined by IAEA in the Nuclear Security Culture guide 7, relevant authorities, leadership and offices should play their roles to strengthen the nuclear culture in the country. 

Establishing Strategic Think Tanks/ Research Centres:

Research centres and think tanks have become very vital in national narrative building and analysing global issues critically. Nuclear strategy and diplomacy has become a specialised subject and nuclear power states have taken sufficient efforts to address this area. A strong nuclear political culture is only possible through research writings, publications, and narrative building. Currently, there are a few think tanks and research centres which are working on strategic issues in the UAE. There is need to establish more think tanks and research centres and there should be active debates on nuclear issues. By developing more think tanks and centres, the UAE can project its perspective ranging from politics of nuclear peaceful uses and its achievements in nuclear energy.

Countering Propaganda and Fake News:

There is no doubt that the UAE has been successful in operating a safe and secure nuclear energy programme in the Middle East and adhered to its professional commitment to run its nuclear programme for peaceful purposes. However, various media campaigns, propaganda and fake news have been circulated through several media sources, social media and blogs. The only purpose of these efforts is to malign the UAE’s peaceful nuclear programme. The UAE must counter such fake news and campaigns to avoid any kind of misperceptions about its nuclear programme.

Public Communications and Awareness Programme: 

There is a need to establish public communication channels and awareness programmes to educate people for their better understanding about nuclear technology. In general perception, nuclear technology has been observed by the public as a very critical, dangerous or unstable matter. This misperception is commonly based on nuclear accidents [due to human error, accidental or natural].

ENEC  should also work to share useful and necessary information about nuclear energy through its national media, electronic and print media, social media and outreach efforts to educate people on the benefits and uses of nuclear energy.

Educating Media: 

In the age of digital and social media where fake news and propaganda wars are at their peaks, there is a need to educate and train media of the country. Media outlets, journalists, TV analysts and programmers should be trained and educated in national nuclear policy. This will help them understand the essence of nuclear politics and its importance in national policy. 

Strong Regional Cooperation:

GCC states are actively thinking to start their civil nuclear energy programmes to support their clean energy needs, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar. The UAE as a leading state in the nuclear energy field in the region can offer professional services to the regional states in the future. It has both economic and diplomatic prospects for the UAE. The GCC states should establish a regional authority to discuss nuclear related politics and nuclear safety and security cooperation for future programmes.

*Dr. Tahir Mahmood Azad is an Affiliate Researcher for Centre for Science & Security Studies, War Studies Department

References:

 “Nawah set to begin regulated activities at Barakah 3. (October 11, 2021.” World Nuclear News, https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Nawah-set-to-begin-regulated-activities-at-Barakah

 Madsen, Michael Amdi. (December 15, 2021). “IAEA Chief in the UAE: Nuclear Energy Key to Country’s Climate Action,” IAEAhttps://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/iaea-chief-in-the-uae-nuclear-energy-key-to-countrys-climate-action

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