x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Nuclear lessons for the UAE

Patrick Reyners brings years of experience to the country to teach a new generation about the possibilities of developing nuclear energy and making long-term investments in the future.

Patrick Reyners, a legal consultant for the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, will be a lecturer at the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi.
Patrick Reyners, a legal consultant for the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, will be a lecturer at the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // At 69, Patrick Reyners feels he has a new mission in life. After a career of which many would be envious, now might seem the time to slow down; instead, he has come to the UAE to impart his decades of knowledge of nuclear law to a new generation.

Mr Reyners, from France, teaches around Europe, including the international nuclear politics degree at the University of Dundee, and at the International School of Nuclear Law in Montpellier.

On Sunday he will begin teaching students at the Paris Sorbonne University, while continuing to work for the Federal Authority on Nuclear Regulation in the capital.

Born in Paris, Mr Reyners, says he is redefining himself after 30 years working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

There, he felt he was working for the greater good, in a little-appreciated field.

"Nuclear law as a speciality was comparatively neglected," he says. "I was never given a chance to satisfy my inclination to laziness."

He says his new role is part of the bigger picture, helping establish a base for education and training in a country he says could be a hub for nuclear energy.

"To embark on a nuclear energy programme is a major national decision, not just in terms of economy and infrastructure policy but in terms of investment," he said.

"When you decide to embark on a nuclear energy programme, it's a decision that's going to involve your country for the next century."

"It's a huge system, not just a matter of substituting coal or oil or investing however many dollars. It's got to be done right."

He is in no hurry to retire.

Although his subject is deeply serious, his energy and enthusiasm cannot help but be felt by his students.

"I would not characterise my teaching activities as a hobby, but besides purely and simply liking doing it because it's fun, I feel a sort of responsibility to transfer to young and clever minds my little bit of knowledge and experience in this domain. It certainly doesn't feel like work."

While he is helping overcome what he says is one of the nuclear programme's biggest challenges - training local manpower - he says the Sorbonne's intensive course is not enough.

Now the country needs to look at training high level academics in nuclear law.

"It has to be instilled patiently into the mindset and attitudes of people, to be cultivated," he said. "The culture of nuclear safety is a very important brick in building this [industry]."

He has seen the nuclear story unfold over many decades. Despite the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - seen as the "original sin of nuclear energy" - by the 60s and 70s the general perception, he says, was that nuclear energy was wonderful progress for science and technology, and nuclear law a very promising career.

"Until the late '70s and '80s, it was seen as a source of practically unlimited and cheap energy," he said.

But by the time of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the nuclear community had learnt many lessons about the importance of improving nuclear safety.

Across Europe and the West, nuclear operations were all but frozen. Only a few exceptions such as Korea, Japan and China continued their programmes.

"Not a single nuclear reactor has been built in the US in the last 40 years, which is a measure of the decline of nuclear energy."

Prof Jean-Yves de Cara, executive director of the Sorbonne, said Mr Reyners is a vital part of training this new generation.

"Patrick is a great expert and has great experience in teaching and training professionals in this field. He's a great asset to FANR and the Sorbonne," he said.

"If you want to build such a power and if you have in mind the requirement for security and conformity with international legislation, it's very important to offer the students - and in particular the Emirati students - some views and an introduction to this very specific field of law," added Prof de Cara.

mswan@thenational.ae