The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has adopted a federal law on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, bringing its plans for a nuclear power program one step closer.
UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan signed the law on 4 October, establishing a national nuclear regulatory authority and prohibiting the country from pursuing uranium enrichment.
The 'Federal Authority of Nuclear Regulation' is a fully independent nuclear safety regulatory authority, which aims to "oversee the nuclear energy sector in the UAE and to promote the highest standards of nuclear safety, nuclear security and radiological protection."
The law also supports the development of a robust system for the licensing and control of nuclear material. It prohibits "the development, construction or operation of uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing facilities within the borders of the UAE." The country has promised to never enrich and reprocess uranium or other fuel and to instead obtain nuclear fuel from reliable international suppliers, in line with the cooperation agreement signed with the USA earlier this year. The USA will have the right to cancel the agreement if the UAE reneges on its commitment not to engage in enrichment or reprocessing activities.
The criminalization and assignment of harsh civil and criminal penalties for violating the law, including the unauthorized use, theft, transport or trade in nuclear materials, is also established by the law.
"The law represents a key component of the necessary legal infrastructure, in accordance with the criteria set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as a framework for the successful implementation of a peaceful nuclear energy sector," the official Emirates news agency WAM reported.
Cabinet ministers also passed a resolution appointing the members of the board of management of the new regulatory body. As one of its first steps, the newly convened board confirmed the appointment of William Travers as the first director general of the new regulatory body. Travers was previously a senior technical advisor at the IAEA, as well as executive director for operations of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Ahmed Al Mazroui, the newly appointed chairman of the board, said: "We fully understand the unrivalled importance of safety with regard to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and are committed to ensuring that the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy, whether within the areas of electricity generation, medicine, industry or agriculture, are only made available in a manner that does not compromise public safety or the environment."
According to the UAE government's July 2008 statement on nuclear policy, the country's energy demand is likely to double by 2020. Natural gas supplies are only likely to be able to meet half of the projected growth, and nuclear is seen as a proven, competitive option to meet the demand while providing future energy security. The UAE is therefore actively working towards introducing nuclear power with plans for three reactors to be online by 2020. It has signed cooperation agreements and memoranda of understanding with a number of countries and companies including France, the UK and the USA.
Companies including Areva, General Electric and Korea Electric Power Co are bidding for contracts worth an estimated $40 billion to construct the UAE's first reactors. The UAE government was expected to take a decision on these bids three weeks ago and, although it could not meet that deadline, a decision is said to be coming soon.