Since a first policy statement was published in 2008, the United Arab Emirates has rapidly developed a legal, regulatory and commercial nuclear infrastructure, primarily through agreements and contracts with experienced nuclear countries, companies and individual experts.

“The UAE puts high importance on developing an effective international cooperation framework to support the development of the required infrastructure, and to facilitate knowledge and operational experience exchange,” foreign minister H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan wrote in prepared remarks for the Access to Civil Nuclear Technology conference in Paris in March.

As a result of this policy, both branches of the country’s nuclear bureaucracy, the regulator, Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), and the developer, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), rely on expatriate participation.

The regulator

In March, FANR issued the first licence to ENEC to study potential sites for the first nuclear power plant, following a review of ENEC’s application. A South Korean consortium lead by Korea Electric Power Corp won a $20.2 billion contract to build four APR-1400 reactors in December 2009. The body’s director general said, “This marks the formal start of FANR’s important role as the independent safety regulator for the UAE’s nuclear power programme.” He added that specific sites will be named in a future application to construct a nuclear power plant, expected later this year. A report on the Zawya online project database lists the location as Al Bayyaa, Abu Dhabi, near the border with Saudi Arabia. US consultancy Paul C. Rizzo Associates is working on site placement and engineering.

The director general of FANR is William Travers. He is former executive director for operations at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and also served as a senior technical advisor at the IAEA. He was appointed by the FANR management board. As of October 2009 it consisted of nine members, with H.E. Dr. Ahmed Al Mazroui as chairman (he is also chairman of the health authority – Abu Dhabi) and H.E. Abdulla Nasser Al Suwaidi as deputy chairman (he is deputy chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi National Oil Corp). Other members include Ali Shaer Sultan Al Dhaheri, H.E. Saif Mohamed Al Zaabi, H.E. Majid Ali Al Mansouri (who is also secretary general of Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi), H.E. Ambassador Hamad Ali Al Kaabi (UAE permanent representative to the IAEA), Dr. Abdulkader Ibrahim Abdulla Al Khayat, Dr. Ali Mohamed Shaheen and an unnamed representative of the Ministry of Environment and Water. According to the Emirates news agency, members of the board have significant legal protections designed to prevent any conflicts of interests with their role as regulators, as well as to preserve their independence in making regulatory or licensing decisions.

The developer

ENEC is wholly-owned by the Abu Dhabi emirate. Like FANR, ENEC has a high-placed US nuclear expert, Jeffrey Benjamin. UAE newspaper The National reported in August 2009 that the former senior vice president of CH2M Hill was recruited as project manager of ENEC. CH2M Hill won a 10-year consulting contract on the project in October 2008. Another US project consultant is Lightbridge Corp/Thorium Power. The ENEC chairman is Khaldoon Al Mubarak, CEO of Mubadala Development Corp (and chairman of the UK’s Manchester City soccer club), and its CEO is Mohamed Al Hammadi.

The largely fixed-price APR-1400 contract covers design, construction, commissioning, fuel supply, and, unusually, joint operation for the life of the plant. In March KEPCO said that it was planning to award $10 billion in subcontracts by the end of May for construction, turbines, steam generation and pipework. NEI understands that Doosan would subcontract turbines and generators to Toshiba.

A large element of the contract was training and education. In its 2008 policy document, the UAE said its goal was to develop a ‘skilled cadre of nuclear engineers.’ In 2009, ENEC, FANR and Khalifa University for Science, Technology and Research offered 38 UAE students full scholarships for nuclear engineering bachelors (33) and masters (5) degrees. ENEC has also developed programmes with the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT) to train and qualify UAE nationals to be nuclear technicians.

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Timeline::The UAE nuclear programme

January 2008: UAE-France cooperation agreement signed

March 2008: UAE government announces intent to develop civilian nuclear energy programme

July 2008: UAE sets up Nuclear Energy Program Implementation Organization, later ENEC

August 2008: UAE pledges $10 million to support the international uranium fuel bank initiative

October 2008: CH2M Hill wins 10-year contract to manage the UAE nuclear programme

January 2009: Outgoing US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice signs 123 agreement with the UAE

April 2009: UAE and IAEA sign Additional Protocol

October 2009: UAE signs nuclear law setting penalties for nuclear espionage and other violations

December 2009: US-UAE 123 agreement comes into force;South Korean consortium wins 4-unit tender

February 2010: Preparation for construction of unit 1 underway

June 2010: Nuclear and safety culture training begins

February 2012: First safety-related concrete poured for unit 1

February 2014: Operations training underway

February 2015: Control room simulator completed

June 2016: First fuel delivery for unit 1

May 2017: First electricity to the grid

2020: Three later units to be completed