Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 14 December 2019

Ambassador: UAE is a 'model' nuclear power

Government aimed to create an industry that was an example for the region

The Barakah plant is set to begin operation by early 2020. Courtesy Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation 
The Barakah plant is set to begin operation by early 2020. Courtesy Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation 

The swift creation of a civilian nuclear industry has made the UAE a model for development across the region, a senior official has told The National.

The first nuclear power plant in the Arab world is expected to start operations by early 2020, less than nine years after work started, said Hamad Alkaabi, the UAE’s permanent representative to the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog.

The process – working in tandem with the International Atomic Energy Agency – created a new path for aspiring, peaceful nuclear nations to follow, said Mr Alkaabi, who is also ambassador in Vienna.

“The last country that actually established this kind of peaceful nuclear programme was China. That was more than three decades ago,” he said.

“There have been countries that have expanded or introduced a nuclear power plant but for a country to start from scratch, the last time this happened was 30 years ago.”

The first phase of development at the Barakah nuclear energy plant, 50 kms southwest of Ruwais, in the Al Dhafra region was completed in March 2018 after seven years of construction work. It could start operations before the end of the year.

The plant is expected to provide 25 per cent of the UAE’s energy demands when it is completed.

“There was a decision in the government that we were going to develop a nuclear energy programme that could serve as a model for many countries in the region and beyond,” he said.

“Before the UAE pursued this, people thought nuclear power should only belong to countries with advanced economies, big powers. That has been the case in the past,” Mr Alkaabi said.

“The UAE approach has proven if you work correctly, if you check all the boxes, you will be able to develop a responsible programme, that is widely supported internationally and will be successful in achieving its objectives,” he added.

The nuclear sector – which did not exist ten years ago - was chosen for rapid development because of its commercial viability with natural gas, other hydrocarbons and renewable energy unable to meet all of the demand.

“The government concluded that demand for electricity in 2007 would triple by 2020. With that demand, naturally, you start to look at the options available to us,” Mr Alkaabi said.

“Nuclear is a proven technology. It competes commercially and environmentally with our other options. That's why the government decided to evaluate it and implement it further,” Mr Alkaabi said.

The UN watchdog reviews the national regulator and has advised the UAE over the last decade.

“All of this allowed the UAE and IAEA partnership to grow over the years,” Mr Alkaabi said. “Now the UAE is seen in the eyes of the agency and many of the member states as a model for being a responsible, peaceful nuclear power programme because we followed the book and we followed the steps and best practice.”

The ambassador sees the IAEA as playing a crucial role in reducing tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Donald Trump last year abandoned the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that saw Iran give up its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.

IAEA inspectors confirmed in July that Iran has exceeded the limits on enriched uranium set out under the nuclear deal. The Iranian government this month began developing centrifuge technology that was banned under the deal.

Mr Alkaabi called on Iran to return to the red lines set out in the JCPOA. “Technically Iran in is violation of the JCPOA. Our call to Iran is to go back and implement the JCPOA and build confidence,” he said. “Countries who develop nuclear power should abide by the high standards of safety.”

Updated: September 18, 2019 08:07 PM

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