UAE ready to sign up to safety conventions

04 August 2009

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has signalled that it is ready to sign up to a number of international nuclear safety conventions, another step on its way to setting up its own nuclear power program.

UAE state news agency WAM reported that accession letters from foreign minister Abdulla Bin Zayed Al Nahyan had been delivered to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general by the country's permanent representative to the IAEA, Hamad Alkaabi.

The latest conventions the UAE has decided to join are the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. It has also formally communicated its acceptance of the amendment to the IAEA Convention on Physical Protection, bringing it closer to the requisite number of signatories needed to bring it into force.

The UAE plans to have three commercial nuclear reactors on line by 2020. It originally outlined its plans to join the conventions when unveiling its nuclear energy policy in 2008. Alkaabi described the latest announcement as a "major milestone". "The UAE decision to join these international instruments is consistent with UAE commitment to maintain the highest standards of safety, security and non proliferation in its efforts to evaluate and develop a peaceful nuclear energy program," he said. The country has renounced plans to enrich and reprocess uranium or other fuel and will instead obtain nuclear fuel from reliable international suppliers in a 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 Convention on Physical Protection, among other things, obligates parties to make specific arrangements and meet defined standards of physical protection for international shipments of nuclear materials. The amendment to the convention accepted by the UAE addresses issues of combating nuclear terrorism, smuggling and sabotage and legally binds states to the protection of nuclear facilities and materials, storage, and transport.

Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety commit to maintaining a high level of safety by meeting internationally agreed benchmarks and cover areas including siting, design, construction, operation, the availability of adequate financial and human resources, the assessment and verification of safety, quality assurance and emergency preparedness.

The Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management applies to spent fuel and radioactive waste from peaceful nuclear applications including nuclear reactors.

Earlier this year the UAE signed the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty, granting international inspectors extended rights within the country. It has signed cooperation agreements and memoranda of understanding with a number of countries and companies including France, the UK and the USA.