ABU DHABI // The UAE's civilian nuclear power programme will mean significantly tightened border controls on shipments and transshipment of goods as the nation works to ensure that sensitive material does not land in the hands of illegal traffickers, international experts said yesterday. "The UAE is well known for its shipment and transportation industry. This means a lot of people, containers, etc., crossing the border," said Vitaly Fedchenko, an expert on nuclear trafficking with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks military expenditure, arms transfer and international conflict.
He said trafficking is a primary security concern, as the sheer volume of material passing UAE borders presents a major security challenge on a daily basis. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, states are responsible for the protection of nuclear material in their territory. The agency's guidelines place strong restrictions on the import and export of nuclear material and prescribe deterrent penalties for breaches.
The UAE has signed on to numerous international agreements on nuclear security as part of its US$20 billion nuclear programme, including the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. It stipulates levels of protection for the transport of nuclear materials, depending on quantity. For instance, if the Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA) is moving "Category II" materials within the UAE, such as 500g to 2kg of unirradiated plutonium, it would need to be stored "within an area under constant surveillance by guards or electronic devices, surrounded by a physical barrier with a limited number of points of entry under appropriate control or any area with an equivalent level of physical protection."
Similarly, if more than 2kg of unirradiated plutonium is transported internationally, authorities would have to provide constant surveillance by experts who would be in round-the-clock contact with response forces. The country should also continuously allow the IAEA to evaluate its nuclear security and safety measures, the agency said. And although the guidelines are non-binding, UAE officials say they will do whatever is necessary to ensure that nuclear material on Emirates soil will be stored and transported securely.
"In our programme in the UAE we signed all the international conventions for non-proliferation and to ban the trafficking of nuclear materials," said Mohamed al Shamsi, the manager of the security and nuclear power protection programme at the CNIA. "We're implementing all the legislation and assurances that ensure the safety and security of our nuclear power plants." Dr Dorel Popescu, an expert on nuclear security at the IAEA and a former nuclear inspector, said the IAEA would provide recommendations and expertise if requested.
The recommendations also seek to limit the possibility of the theft of nuclear or radioactive materials that could be used to craft radioactive bombs. And above all, the guidelines say, military and intelligence personnel, policymakers and emergency responders should undergo training in "nuclear security culture" that would familiarise them with the risks inherent to securing nuclear material. The CNIA will provide security details that will guard nuclear material that arrives in the UAE's territorial waters starting in 2017, when the country's first nuclear power plant goes online.
The authority, which controls marine patrols and the Coastguard, will be responsible for transporting the material to the plants. Those efforts will complement those of other government bodies: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be responsible for acquiring nuclear fuel from abroad and bringing it to the UAE, and border patrols will be tasked with intercepting smuggled nuclear material. "We follow whatever is legislated to us by the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation and the IAEA to ensure the security of this material," Mr al Shamsi said.