ABU DHABI // Australia has opened the door to supplying the UAE with nuclear fuel but has ruled out taking back the radioactive waste it generates.
"The UAE meets all the tests, and the tests are rigorous and extensive and we're happy to make a big commitment to providing them with energy security," the Australian foreign minister Bob Carr said yesterday.
Australia has the world's biggest uranium reserves, nearly a quarter of the global supply, and is expected to be one of the main suppliers for the UAE's nuclear power plant.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah, signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Mr Carr last night allowing for such nuclear trade as Abu Dhabi prepares to award a major contract for 15 years' worth of uranium. But fuel leasing, in which the supplier takes back the spent fuel, is off the cards for now in Australia, which also bans nuclear plants at home.
"Public opinion in Australia would be resolutely opposed to taking back nuclear waste," said Mr Carr. "That's a very big step, and there wouldn't be public support for it."
When Abu Dhabi outlined its plans to build the Arab world's first nuclear power plant in 2008, it had hoped that some supplier nations would be willing to take back the waste.
For suppliers, the benefits lie in preventing proliferation; for consumers, it frees them of the problem of storing the radioactive material.
Since then Abu Dhabi has signed nuclear cooperation treaties with the US, UK, France and South Korea, awarded a Dh75 billion nuclear plant contract and last month - with the first foundation concrete pouring - became the first nation to launch a civilian nuclear programme from scratch since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
But there has been slower progress with fuel leasing, which until now has been used only for small amounts of waste from research reactors.
The UAE is crafting a waste-management strategy that could include an underground storage site within its borders or a shared regional repository, should the GCC decide to build one. It is not relying on a single approach, said Hamad Al Kaabi, the UAE permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, and the chief negotiator for the nation's nuclear cooperation treaties.
"Our strategy will not be based on something that's not mature enough to be reliable today," said Mr Al Kaabi before Mr Carr's visit. "We'll have our strategy on Plan A, and we'll continue to develop Plan B."
Mr Carr praised the UAE for providing a counter-example to Iran's nuclear programme, which western nations suspect is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
"It's an excellent contrast to rule out enrichment and to subject the industry to through safeguards and monitoring," he said. "We share the UAE's concerns about Iran's nucear ambitons and the associated risks."
Australia has adopted sanctions against Iran in line with American and EU measures that he said have had "significant" effects on currency and oil exports.
"We've got to rely on them because they are an alternative to a military strike by the US or Israel," he said. "As Abraham Lincoln said, we work with the tools we have."