x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UAE's nuclear model favours full transparency

The UAE's nuclear programme can become a model of a well-run reactor project. And the UAE can play a role in working towards the responsible global development of nuclear power.

Sometime in 2014, the first reactor for the Braka Nuclear Power Plant will be loaded onto a freighter in the South Korean city of Changwon. By the time it steams to the site 300 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi, the Arab world's first nuclear-power station will be a few dozen months from switching the lights on.

The commissioning will be a benchmark in the UAE's record as a global energy leader. But whether Braka becomes a model for curbing nuclear-weapons development - as its creators hope - or an exception depends on the cooperation of countries represented at the Seoul nuclear summit convening today.

After Japan's Fukushima disaster last year, and with Iranian leaders pursuing a policy of intentional nuclear ambiguity, the global nuclear-energy business needs a clear-cut model of safe, peaceful civilian development. Abu Dhabi can deliver that with the continued support of partners abroad.

When the US and the UAE signed a nuclear cooperation deal in 2009, so began a nuclear partnership that would eventually be dubbed the "gold standard" for nuclear cooperation. Among the most noteworthy aspects of the so-called 123 Agreement was the UAE's decision to give up its right - enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - to enrich and reprocess fuel. There are civilian uses for enrichment and reprocessing, but the materials can also be ingredients of a weapons programme. Iran's enrichment programme is what troubles world leaders today. The UAE's voluntary decision was a goodwill gesture and a counter-narrative.

But the trade-off came with a caveat: if a neighbouring state were to seal better terms with Washington, the UAE could renegotiate. Recent reports that the Obama administration has dropped objections to a Jordanian uranium-enrichment programme have raised questions about the US-UAE agreement. A similar deal may be in the works with Vietnam.

The UAE programme has started well. The country has an independent regulator, an internationally recognised advisory board and a history of transparency. But further challenges will come. South Korea's nuclear programme, the source of much of the UAE's technological know-how, has suffered a recent operational issue, transparency problems and recent allegations of an attempted cover-up of the malfunction. The UAE can avoid these problems with the help of its partners.

Leaders gathered in Seoul must consider the decisions that will support a global nonproliferation regime - open and verifiable, like the UAE's, and not opaque and obstructionist, like Iran's. That should be a goal that almost everyone can support.