The UAE Drafts Nuclear Blueprint

By Land, Thomas | The Middle East, April 2008 | Go to article overview

The UAE Drafts Nuclear Blueprint


Land, Thomas, The Middle East


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THE UAE IS drafting a major policy declaration for review by the United Nations and several major world powers, setting out in some detail the parameters of its ambitious new nuclear reactor construction programme. The document may well emerge as a political blueprint for atomic power development throughout the Arab world.

In it, the seven emirates that comprise the UAE--Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Qiwain--are expected to renounce the option of domestic uranium enrichment and accept the principle of signing the Additional Protocols of the UN's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Such a move would empower the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to stage intrusive inspections at short notice in order to monitor all operations.

The declaration is being drafted following a landmark bilateral civilian nuclear as well as military collaboration accord, reached between the UAE and France. The agreement was signed in the presence of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE president who is also the ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Nicolas Sarkozy, his French counterpart, during the latter's Middle East tour. The accord also calls for the establishment of a major military base in the UAE by France, an established arms supplier to the Gulf.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE foreign minister, has followed up by initiating high-level consultations with France, the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Britain, Japan and South Korea as well as the IAEA. Sheikh Abdullah says that the policy document now being drafted by the UAE is intended to serve as "a model" for other non-nuclear countries pursuing "peaceful domestic nuclear programmes with the full support and backing of the international community".

The UAE is part of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Some GCC states are also approaching joint reactor building programmes with France and have already recorded their collective intention of pursuing nuclear power for exclusively peaceful purposes, such as electricity generation and water desalination.

During March, the GCC scheduled a series of technical and policy consultations and seminars with the IAEA, to evolve a collaborative nuclear power development programme for the group. The principles of the regional programme may well reflect the policies now being defined in the UAE declaration.

Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, the Egyptian scientist and Nobel Peace laureate in charge of the Vienna-based IAEA, has welcomed these developments. He has also sought to calm proliferation fears generated by the widespread current interest in reactor building expressed by many countries across the Middle East and beyond.

During a visit to Cairo in February, El Baradei said: "All nuclear activities of the Arab countries will be carried out under the IAEA safeguards regime. I cannot see why anybody should be worried about Arab countries using nuclear energy for electric power generation.

"There are proliferation concerns, of course," he went on. These, he added, involved "sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, enrichment activities, and reprocessing activities," which could be misused for the manufacture of nuclear weaponry proscribed under the NPT. "But," he stressed, "all these sensitive activities should be carried out under regional or multinational control."

President Sarkozy goes further. He argues that sharing civilian nuclear technology between the Islamic World and the West must be seen by both as a foundation of mutual confidence between them.

He told Saudi Arabia's Shura Council: "I have often said that the Muslim world is no less reasonable than the rest of the world in seeking civilian nuclear (power) to meet its energy needs, in full conformity with international security obligations. …

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