x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE 'meets nuclear gold standard'

The UAE's civil nuclear energy programme is being developed to "global gold standards" and could be a model for other nations.

Gareth Evans, co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear non-Proliferation and Disarmament.
Gareth Evans, co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

ABU DHABI // The UAE's civil nuclear energy programme is being developed to "global gold standards" and could be a model for other nations, according to a leading figure in the nuclear arms reduction movement. Gareth Evans, a co-chairman of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and a former Australian foreign minister, spoke as he was visiting Abu Dhabi for a meeting with high-level government and industry officials. His stop in the UAE came as part of a 26-country tour to promote a report released by the commission in December which charts a road map towards a nuclear weapons- free world. The report, which also outlines the need to "destroy the curse, but retain the blessing of nuclear energy", was written ahead of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's (NPT) review conference in May. According to Mr Evans, who arrived in the country last Monday, the UAE's nascent nuclear energy programme could be a model for others wishing to pursue the civil nuclear path, and "an answer" to those concerned about the possible risks to non-proliferation efforts. "The UAE has a particularly significant story to tell to the international community because of the decision to acquire civil nuclear energy to a global gold standard basis," he said, in an interview. The UAE is expected to have four nuclear reactors by 2020, which would make it the first country in the Arab world to harness nuclear power. In December, the UAE and the United States finalised a deal, known as the 123 Agreement, which allows for the transfer of material and equipment for nuclear research and power production. It also outlines strict non-proliferation guidelines. The UAE has also committed to a ban on domestic enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear materials in a bid to reaffirm that its programme is solely for peaceful purposes. According to Mr Evans, the 123 Agreement "ticks all the boxes", particularly on security and safeguard issues. "Some people describe countries newly acquiring civil nuclear energy as 'bomb-starter kits'," he said. "The UAE has made it unequivocally clear that it's not going to be in the bomb-starter kit business." Mr Evans will visit nuclear-armed states, including Pakistan, India and Israel, during his tour. One area in which he would like to see more movement is in efforts towards a "weapons of mass destruction free zone" in the Middle East. Among the recommendations outlined in the commission's report is for the UN Secretary General to convene a regional meeting to discuss ways to achieve a region free of nuclear weapons. "Obviously Israel's possession of a substantial nuclear arsenal, and unwillingness to talk about going down this direction until there is a stable and sustainable peace involving it and its neighbours, is going to make it very difficult to move rapidly to any kind of negotiation on that front," said Mr Evans. "But I think it is important to begin serious discussions about the pre-conditions and pre-requisites for that." However, Mr Evans stressed that nuclear non-proliferation must be dealt with at the global and not just the regional level. The commission was launched in 2008 by the Australian and Japanese governments. In addition to Mr Evans and his co-chairwoman, Yoriko Kawaguchi, a former Japanese foreign minister, the independent body is comprised of a diverse group including Brajesh Mishra, a former national security adviser to the Indian government, and Prince Turki Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia. The commission's report says non-proliferation and disarmament are inextricably linked. "The basic story that this report wants to tell is, so long as any country has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any country has them, they're bound one day to be used by accident or miscalculation, if not design," said Mr Evans. "Any such use would be catastrophic to life on this planet." The report, which Mr Evans described as a "very pragmatic and realistic" proposal of how to eventually rid the world of nuclear weapons, includes a strategy for minimising and eventually eliminating the warheads. It outlines targets for the next three years, including progress on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. The commission would also like to see significant developments in the area of disarmament by 2012, including a new agreement between the US and Russia, who between them possess 95 per cent of the world's 23,000 nuclear weapons. In the next three years there also needs to be a resolution to the issue of Iran's nuclear intentions, according to the report, as well as to North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons. The commission has outlined a plan to reduce the number of nuclear warheads from the current 23,000 to fewer than 2,000 by 2025. According to Mr Evans there are currently 2,000 nuclear warheads on "launch-on-warning" status. "It's sheer dumb luck that we have survived for all these years since the end of the Second World War without a nuclear catastrophe," he said. "It's got nothing to do with political leadership or good management." According to Mr Evans, while it will be difficult enough to reduce the number of weapons, the real challenge will come when trying to eliminate the very last of them. "You've got to have issues of verification absolutely resolved so that no one can possibly cheat and you've got to have the issue of enforcement resolved so that if someone does try to cheat, the whole world will be on them like a ton of bricks." zconstantine@thenational.ae