x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Global network fuels UAE's nuclear ambitions

Yesterday's agreement between the UAE and Russia rounds off an initial flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at securing nuclear fuel supplies for the Emirates' ambitious programme for alternative sources of energy.

Uranium for the UAE's nuclear programme will be sourced from mines in countries including Australia. Above, a uranium mine in the Northern Territory. Bloomberg News
Uranium for the UAE's nuclear programme will be sourced from mines in countries including Australia. Above, a uranium mine in the Northern Territory. Bloomberg News

Yesterday's agreement between the UAE and Russia rounds off an initial flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at securing nuclear fuel supplies for the Emirates' ambitious programme for alternative sources of energy.

The agreement underlines the global network of countries and corporations that will be needed if the UAE is to realise the first phase of these ambitions within the five-year timeline laid out by its leadership.

In August, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec), which will own the finished reactors, awarded uranium supply contracts worth US$3 billion (Dh11.01bn) for 15 years' worth of nuclear fuel, or about 12,000 tonnes of uranium, to British, Canadian, Russian, French and United States companies.

The deal will lead to the purchase of about 12,000 tonnes of concentrated uranium - also known as yellowcake - enough to generate 450 million megawatt hours of nuclear energy or power more than 40,000 homes a year.

At the time, Fahad Al Qahtani, an Enec spokesman, said: "The uranium will be sourced by the contracted companies from uranium mines all over the world."

The list of companies supporting the development of nuclear power in the UAE includes Rio Tinto, based in the United Kingdom, Canada's Uranium One, Russia's Tenex, the American company ConverDyn, France's Areva and the UK's Urenco.

Westinghouse, a unit of Toshiba based in Pittsburgh, is providing reactor coolant pumps, engineering services and training. South Korea's Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) is the primary contractor for the four reactors planned for Baraka, in Al Gharbia, 300 kilometres from the capital.

Construction on the first of four 1,400-megawatt reactors has also started and is "on track" to go online by 2017.

These deals then required the necessary treaties to be sealed between the UAE and the above nations to pave the way for the atomic material and technology to be exported to the Emirates. Abu Dhabi has also signed nuclear cooperation treaties with Australia, the US, UK, France and South Korea.

For the fuel to reach Barakah, the UAE has to continue signing bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements with any countries that become a part of its supply chain.

If material is slated to be supplied from other nations without a nuclear treaty with the UAE by any of these firms then similar diplomacy will need to take place to secure any exports.

Rio Tinto, for example, which mines its uranium in Namibia as well as Australia, could trigger additional diplomatic activity.

Hamad Al Kaabi, the UAE permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world's nuclear watchdog had confirmed that bilateral agreements will have to be signed as needed.

"We might sign further ones, depending on whether the contracts will lead to additional mines in certain countries," said Mr Al Kaabi.

"If uranium is transmitted to a third country from a second country, it requires a further arrangement."

Other issues could arise if the companies chosen by Enec decide to subcontract some of their work, he said.

The initial financing for the Baraka nuclear plant, valued at $20bn in a contract awarded to a Korean consortium in 2009, came in September in a $2bn export credit loan from the US.

The UAE is the first country to embark on a new civil nuclear programme since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster amid less than thrilling projections by the IAEA, the nuclear watchdog, for global growth in nuclear power.

The March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident dented what had been considered a period of "renaissance" for nuclear energy with the IAEA estimating that post-Fukushima growth has been put back by 10 years. Most of that growth will centre in nations such as China and South Korea and to a lesser but not insignificant extent the UAE.

Enec has said it is preparing to apply for a licence to build the third and fourth reactors by end of this year, keeping up the pace of development. The UAE's advancing nuclear programme and the series of agreements it has reached with nations and companies in rapid time are critical developments for a global industry very much in need of a boost.

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