UAE to become first Arab country to join civilian nuclear club within weeks
The United Arab Emirates is set to become the first Arab state with a nuclear power program and the first to join the civilian nuclear club in more than a quarter of a century, a report published by the Foreign Affairs magazine has claimed.
According to the report, the country’s first reactor is scheduled to be operational by May 2017, after further inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure the fuel is used only for peaceful purposes. So far, the project is on budget and on schedule, the report said.
The report says that the remaining three 1,400 megawatt South Korean¬-designed reactors are under construction and will be gradually connected to the grid by May 2020.
Farthest along Arab states
The report describes the UAE the farthest among the Arab states in reaching its nuclear power goals adding that the country has made a convincing case that it needs nuclear power to address its rising demand for energy, reduce its fossil fuel dependence, and free up more oil for exports.
To assuage worries about its intentions, in an April 2008 white paper, Abu Dhabi made a commitment to forgo uranium enrichment. The same was reflected in its 2009 “123” nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States (named after Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954), whose language barring enrichment and reprocessing is often referred to in the nuclear community as the “nonproliferation gold standard.”
According to the report, the UAE’s arguments for its nuclear program make sense. “Although the oil-rich country is heavily reliant on fossil fuel and has traditionally preferred a nuclear-free Gulf, it is feeling the pressure to diversify its energy mix to protect the nation’s natural resources and preserve them for exports,” it says.
It is estimated that, once completed, the country’s new reactors will meet up to a quarter of the UAE’s electricity demand. Further, there is a great amount of public support for developing nuclear technology as a way to create jobs and reduce pollution.
According to the latest public opinion poll on nuclear technology, conducted in 2012, 82 percent of Emiratis favored developing nuclear power and 89 percent supported the building of a nuclear plant. As many as 89 percent felt that the peaceful use of nuclear energy was either “extremely important,” “very important,” or “important” for the UAE, says the report.
The Iran element
According to the report, the UAE and other Arab states are not blind to the Iranian nuclear threat, especially in light of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Polling found that the Emiratis are even more skeptical than the Saudis of the JCPOA, with 91 percent stating they do not support the deal and 71 percent saying the deal is “only good for Iran, but bad for the Arab States.”
Although, in the end, the Arab Gulf countries cautiously and conditionally threw their support behind the Iran nuclear deal, there are some indications that the UAE might be interested in renegotiating the “123 agreement” in the JCPOA’s wake.
The JCPOA, if it remains intact, buys Iran’s neighbors a decade during which they can continue with their nuclear push to better prepare themselves for Tehran’s rise. In the long-term, the UAE’s civilian nuclear program can reduce the costs associated with developing military programs, said the report.