x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UK's atomic energy chief praises UAE policy style

Government is planning the nuclear generation of electricity in 'transparent and thoughtful fashion'.

The head of Britain's nuclear programme has hailed the UAE as a model for other countries thinking of generating electricity by atomic energy. Lady Barbara Judge, chairwoman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, was briefed about the nuclear development policy when she visited Abu Dhabi last week as part of a high-powered delegation of business leaders headed by the British prime minister, Gordon Brown.

Lady Barbara said the group was impressed with the UAE's approach to meeting its future energy needs, considering the long lead-in time required to get a nuclear power station online. She also approved of how the Emirates had approached the project as a member of the international community. "The thing that's impressed me about our visit is that the UAE is preparing its energy plan in the most transparent and thoughtful fashion," she said. "It's doing everything at the highest possible level of clarity and expertise and that is extremely impressive."

The praise comes after Mohammed bin Dha'en al Hamili, Minister of Energy, told a meeting of the Middle East and North Africa nuclear energy forum in Doha this week that the UAE had signed a 10-year deal with American engineering company CH2M Hill to manage its civilian nuclear power programme. The nation needs to meet its rising demand for power, now increasing at nine per cent each year. The Government is right to move ahead, considering the time involved in securing regulatory approvals, selecting sites and testing technology, said Lady Judge, who also lauded the UAE's efforts to consult with all international regulatory authorities and use the best available people and technology. "The most important point is that they are starting it now," she said.

"If I was going to write a template on how to begin a new nuclear programme and to get the world behind you instead of against you, I would say Abu Dhabi is doing it exactly the right way. It's best practice multiplied by three. "I haven't seen any country do this with so much professionalism from a standing start." Lady Judge declined to specify which other nations that could benefit from the UAE's example. But Iran's nuclear enrichment plan, with the potential to create weapons-grade nuclear fuel as well as fuel for nuclear power generation, has created concern in the region.

The UAE, which has no plan to enrich its own uranium, has endorsed a UN draft resolution to make the Middle East a nuclear-weapons free zone. "One of the advantages of this best-practice position is that it might influence other countries," she added. "As the UAE continues along this path, many other countries are also considering or already starting construction of nuclear power plants - China, India, Turkey and I've just heard Italy has changed its position. Those are just a few that are at different stages along the path to new nuclear power plants. I believe Abu Dhabi is an example to them all."

Lady Judge became a convert to the peaceful use of nuclear power after joining a Department of Trade and Industry energy group in 2002. "I understand the problems of energy security of supply, energy independence and climate change," she said. "These are the big three energy problems confronting the UK today and what we learnt [with the DTI group] is that one of the ways you could combat all three problems is to build new nuclear power plants."

British companies have indicated they intend to be part of the tender process to help build and run the UAE's nuclear power plants. In January, a French consortium, comprising the oil company Total, the utility company Suez and the nuclear engineering specialist Areva, announced it would seek the contract to build and run a 3.2 gigawatt nuclear turbine for the UAE. Lady Judge was speaking as an authority on civil nuclear power generation, not on behalf of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. jhenzell@thenational.ae