French energy consortium to offer nuclear plant to UAE

14 January 2008

Oil giant Total has joined Areva and Suez to sign a partnership agreement to submit a nuclear power plant project to authorities in the United Arab Emirates. The move comes just prior to a visit by the French president to the UAE, during which a nuclear cooperation agreement is expected to be signed. 

Total, Suez and Areva said in a joint statement that they intend to submit a proposal for a nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi comprising two 1600 MWe Evolutionary Pressurized Water Reactors (EPRs), together with the provision of nuclear fuel cycle products and services.

According to a report in French newspaper Les Echos, the companies responded to interest from the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, the ADWEA, which has outlined plans to construct the plant. The report said that a final decision on the plant by the ADWEA could happen "in the next few months."

Industrial and services group Suez and oil giant Total are already partners in power generation and desalination in the UAE, through the Taweelah plant, which produces some 20% of Abu Dhabi's electricity.

Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, recently said that he expects the company to expand its activities and to enter the nuclear energy industry. He said, "In twenty years, I don't see how we could be absent in the fields of nuclear power and clean fuel." However, he noted "that will require a lot of preparation," a reflection on partnerships that could take place.

The announcement of the partnership came as French president Nicolas Sarkozy begins a visit to the Middle East. He arrived in Saudi Arabia on 13 January and is later due to visit Qatar and the UAE. Sarkozy told the Al-Hayat newspaper, "My visit to the United Arab Emirates will be ... the occasion to sign an agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy."

France's nuclear push

The anticipated agreement between France and the UAE would be the third nuclear cooperation deal France has signed recently with Muslim countries. In July 2007, France and Libya signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on a project to build a nuclear-powered seawater desalination plant in Libya. In December, France and Algeria signed a nuclear cooperation agreement designed to facilitate industrial partnerships, transfers of technology and cooperation in training. The agreement could lead to the construction of Algeria's first nuclear power plant.

"I have often said that the Muslim world is no less reasonable than the rest of the world in seeking civilian nuclear [power] for its energy needs, in full conformity with the international security obligations", Sarkozy said. He has also discussed nuclear cooperation during visits to Morocco, Yemen and Egypt.

Whilst in Saudi Arabia, Sarkozy met with King Abdullah and signed cooperation agreements in oil and gas, as well as political cooperation. Sarkozy also reportedly offered the King the services of France's Atomic Energy Commission to explore the possibilities of a civil nuclear energy program in Saudi Arabia.