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Milestones in UAE nuclear project

The nuclear power station at Barakah is more than an exercise in construction prowess and energy ambition. It is an opportunity for the UAE to lead by example.

When the first concrete was poured at the first unit of Barakah nuclear power station in July, the UAE's long march towards nuclear energy began in earnest. And it confirmed the nation's commitment to one of the most open, transparent civilian nuclear power projects.

This week brought another milestone. Korea's President Lee Myung-bak visited the construction site in Al Gharbia on Wednesday. Seoul's Korea Electric Power Corporation is building the plant, which is due to start producing power in 2017. The visit was also a reminder that the nuclear programme is a truly global undertaking.

By 2020, when all four of Barakah's planned reactors are online, the site will supply a quarter of Abu Dhabi's power. This is a crucial foundation of the country's development.

But Barakah is more than an exercise in construction prowess and energy ambition. The UAE has an opportunity to lead by example.

This is happening at Barakah. In 2009, the UAE signed an agreement with the United States for nuclear cooperation, giving up its right to enrich and reprocess fuel, and has signed other agreements with France and Britain to purchase uranium. At the same time, the country has created an independent regulator to monitor licensing, construction and operation of the plant - the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation. In 2010, the UAE became the region's first country voted to the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. And it created an independent board of experts to oversee the entire process, spearheaded by the former IAEA chief, Hans Blix.

A peaceful nuclear programme with an emphasis on safety will lead to important reductions in carbon emissions and diversify energy sources. But for the UAE, it can also serve as a blueprint for more transparent government, and an opportunity for international collaboration to be put to good use.

Transparency is the key ingredient to a safe, secure nuclear power programme. In this dimension, the UAE has made its commitment clear.

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