As the United Arab Emirates' Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UAE Special Representative for International Nuclear Cooperation, I am proud to have been given the opportunity to engage with responsible nations around the world for the promotion of peaceful nuclear energy, writes Hamad Alkaabi.

Hamad Alkaabi, the UAE's Permanent Representative to the IAEA

In only a decade, the UAE has evolved from a new entrant in civil nuclear programmes, to a reputed nuclear developer that has established a culture of operational transparency and high nuclear safety and quality standards. This approach has meant that our vision of delivering peaceful nuclear energy has been reached in a most efficient and effective way. Thanks to our visionary leadership, along with a team of remarkable experts working in close collaboration with international entities, we have worked over the span of a decade to steadily progress to become the 33rd nation to enable nuclear operations for peaceful purposes.

The UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme commenced in 2006. Back then, the country's strong economic and social growth caused a significant surge in electricity demand. This demand highlighted the need to bring more power generation technologies to increase the energy security and diversity of our electricity sector, reduce our dependence on fossil fuel for power generation, while also increasing our energy diversification and, most of all, deliver a more environmentally sustainable electricity sector.

The mandate was clear: the UAE required new power generation technologies to produce safe and clean electricity to power its growth over the coming decades. To achieve this, a strategic selection process to choose the power generation technologies commenced. This comprehensive process analysed all the forms of proven technologies in the electricity generation industry. It measured them against a series of strategic criteria which included the capacity to contribute to energy security, diversification and environmental sustainability. The result of this comprehensive process selected renewable energy and peaceful nuclear energy as the technologies to power our future, in a complementary manner, alongside the existing fleet.

Today, it is remarkable to witness that energy planning study coming to fruition. The UAE has emerged as the largest producer of electricity from renewable resources in the Middle East - 80% of the entire renewable power generation in the region.

While the UAE continues to expand the use of renewable energy in its power sector significantly, the Barakah nuclear power plant plays a strategically critical and complementary role: as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development states, nuclear energy "remains the only major dispatchable low-carbon source of electricity other than hydropower".

In simple terms, it is the only form of generation that can produce significant volumes of electricity round-the-clock, with almost zero carbon emissions.

The four units of the Barakah plant will meet 25% of the country's power demand and will also enable the largest cuts in emissions in the history of the UAE's electricity industry, avoiding the equivalent emissions of about 3.2 million cars every year. This will be game-changing for the electricity sector and set the nation on a new path of sustainable development.

The technology for the Barakah plant was chosen as a result of a robust selection process with safety, quality, efficiency and reliability being key selection criteria. The APR1400 design achieved international accreditations, such as certification by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and was approved for use by the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). The reference units for Barakah are Shin Kori 3 & 4 in South Korea.

Our programme also has robust international recognition, which is the result of an open-door policy established in 2008. Since the UAE published its National Policy on Peaceful Nuclear Energy, the country has steadily progressed in developing its civil programme to the highest standards of safety, security, non-proliferation and operational transparency, in full cooperation with the IAEA, as well as committing to partner with responsible nations and, finally, to implement the programme in a manner that assures long-term sustainability. Notably, and as part of its commitment to the highest standards of nuclear non-proliferation, the UAE has pledged not to develop any domestic enrichment or reprocessing capabilities and has actually made these activities and their related facilities illegal within the UAE jurisdiction.

After a decade of development, I can confidently state that operational transparency has been fundamental to our programme: It has enabled us to attract nuclear energy experts and authorities from around the world, and instill the unique mindset of continuous improvement and lessons learned from the global nuclear energy sector within our programme.

I would like to highlight some remarkable examples that illustrate the commitment of our programme to operational transparency. In 2010, the UAE established the International Advisory Board (IAB), an independent panel of reputed international experts led by Hans Blix, an IAEA director general for four consecutive mandates, from 1981 to 1997.

Between 2010 and 2018, the IAB reviewed the progress of the UAE's nuclear power project. This group of international recognised experts met with all the entities involved in the development of the programme. They raised any and all questions, and captured their views in publicly available reports. But, most importantly, they made our programme improve in every way. The IAB remains unique in the world and is testament to the commitments made by the UAE.

The second example worth mentioning is our constant collaboration with international nuclear agencies and authorities, such as the IAEA and the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO). As a member of the IAEA since 1976, the UAE has seen a new phase of involvement in this organisation when it launched the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme.

Based on UAE government requests, the IAEA has conducted more than 11 major international peer review missions to ensure the UAE’s programme and its nuclear infrastructure comply with IAEA standards. In fact, the UAE was the first nation to undertake the comprehensive International Nuclear Infrastructure Review in 2018, receiving positive feedback and of course some areas for improvement, which have since been addressed prior to the commencement of operations.

In addition to the reviews, the UAE has been taking an active role in numerous international meetings and conferences, in order to share experiences and encourage learning. Of particular importance is the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety. The UAE has regularly provided national reports to the Contracting Parties to the Convention to provide updates on the progress the UAE has been making. The reported progress has been open to peer review and discussions as part of the periodic review conferences of the Convention. Together with the IAEA, we continue to support the development of civil nuclear energy around the world and call for operational transparency.

We also embraced the high standards of nuclear excellence from WANO and worked with many of its centres across the world to learn from the best global practice, train our local Emirati staff, and achieve a level of proficiency in nuclear operations and maintenance that would meet WANO standards.

The UAE has completed the IAEA inspections, multiple WANO interactions, as well as hundreds of inspections from FANR. Moving forward, our country remains committed to continuously learn and improve, because we understand that the journey to excellence never stops. We will continue to take an active part across international platforms to share our experience and learn from others.

Through robust planning and implementation of the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme, transparency and strong international cooperation have been constant overarching principles.  As a result, the programme has become a model for other countries in the region and beyond.

While political opponents of the UAE and some individuals fundamentally opposed to nuclear energy have sought to criticise the UAE's choice to embrace peaceful nuclear energy, objective experts from the nuclear power sector, as well as those concerned about the dangerous effects of climate change, have overwhelmingly welcomed this choice and the conscientious way in which the UAE has implemented it.
We are approaching the operational phase of the first nuclear reactor, which is scheduled to be commissioned this quarter, following receipt of an operating licence from FANR.

Hamad Alkaabi

Date: Thursday, 23 January 2020
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