Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan

Over a dozen Arab states announced plans to develop nuclear power programmes and are in various stages of negotiations or research and development. These efforts would create new world of geo-politics and geo-strategic imbalances in the region

(Shimon Yiftah “The Nuclear Age in the Middle East”)

The United Arab Emirates and the United States of America signed an historic deal to cooperate in a civilian nuclear energy program. The civil nuclear program and extended energy cooperation between the UAE and USA has created new geo-political and geo-strategic equilibrium in the Gulf and Middle East region. It has multiplier effects and multidimensional repercussions too. Some say it indispensable for UAE and other term it misadventure. The comparative research study reveals that UAE has no other viable option but to start its own nuclear program to match with the fast growing energy needs.

The rigorous energy pursuit of the UAE has derived from some its socio-economic needs, geo-political compulsions and geo-strategic requirements which are given below as:

(a) Socio-economic needs

International Institute for Strategic Studies research report (2009) said the UAE has very valid energy reasons for wanting nuclear power: They have booming economic growth and their electricity demand is going up by some incredible percentage.

According to the Ministry of Economy (2008-09) the economy had developed by more than 23 percent in nominal terms to more than Dh934 billion in 2008. Abu Dhabi and Dubai remained the dominant economies with the UAE, accounting for nearly 87 percent of the total gross domestic product of the seven emirates. UAE succeeded to maintain its status as the second largest Arab economy after Saudi Arabia. UAE’s GDP achieved one of the highest nominal GDP growth rates in its 38 year history.

Year GDP % Nominal GDP $ billion GDP per capita ($000)
2005 8.2 135.3 33.9
2006 11.6 164.0 38.8
2007 5.3 200.5 44.8
2008 7.4 272.7 57.8
2009 6.7 216 46.2
Source: Ministry of Economy of UAE

The above table clearly shows that UAE is urgently needs creditable and sustainable means of energy in order to match with the fast growing socio-economy sector. Peafowl pursuit of nuclear energy would be best and optimal way to achieve this goal in the years to come.

(b) Growing energy demands

Growing energy needs forced the UAE to develop a nuclear power program. Domestic hydrocarbons will be unable to satisfy the UAE’s growing demand for electricity the UAE already imports 60% of the natural gas it uses for electricity production. To maintain present levels of growth, UAE will need to generate at least 40,000 Megawatts of electricity by 2020.

The above figure verifies that demand of energy is on the rise and parity between the demand and supply is widening by each day. UAE peaceful nuclear program is must to fill the widening gap of demand and supply.

(c) Optimal solution

Many regional and international research studies concluded that nuclear power emerged as a proven, competitive option to meet the growing energy demands of any country and UAE is not any exception. The energy policy of the UAE projects electricity demand escalating from 15.5 GWe in 2008 to over 40 GWe in 2020, with natural gas supplies only able to meet half of it. It is estimated that diversifying energy base into new sources like nuclear UAE would be able to export as much hydrocarbon as possible and build up a huge foreign exchange reserve. It is supposed to be a major driving force for the UAE to the pursue nuclear power route

(d) Comparative study of available energy reservoirs

UAE has larger reservoirs of oil and diesel but this option would entail extremely high economic costs, as well as poor environmental performance. Coal powered generation offered a lower relative price, compared to other energy reservoirs but its widespread use would have an even more severe detrimental effect on environmental performance in the days to come. The coal option also raised thorny issues related to security of supply. The energy policy of UAE also indicated that alternative energies, including solar and wind suggested that, while these options are being deployed within the UAE, even aggressive development could only supply a small portion (4-5%) of peak electricity demand by 2020.

The UAE projected the country’s energy demand out to 2020. While demand has been growing at 6-7 percent per year for the last several years, the study predicted future growth rates of over 13 percent per year, driven in largest part by industrial demand. Nuclear power produces no carbon emissions, but it even competes well with renewable energy sources such as wind in a lifecycle analysis.

(e) Role model

The UAE has repeatedly committed to a peaceful civilian nuclear energy program with cooperation and collaboration with international institutions and the IAEA. The leaders of the UAE stressed that they want to be a model for the Gulf region-to pursue the program in complete transparency and under full view of the international community. China said on Monday it appreciated the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for taking a transparent and “responsible approach in implementing its peaceful nuclear energy plan according to international law.

Many among the international communities have already endorsed the UAE’s nuclear energy program as a model. It firmly upholds the core principles of operational transparency, and highest standards of safety, security and non-proliferation.

(f) Lessening of proliferation prospects

The UAE has accepted several conditions that would create a strong wall between nuclear power on the one hand and nuclear weapons on the other. UAE will accept full transparency and would not pursue any sensitive fuel-cycle technologies which are necessary in the development of nuclear weapons.

A number of other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have shown an interest in independent nuclear generation, but all eyes are firmly on the UAE. It is predicted the UAE’s program could serve as a means of countering proliferation by providing a model to other regional nations of the viability of pursuing nuclear energy in a responsible manner. The UAE hopes to serve as a model for the collective nuclear energy program the Gulf Cooperation Council has embarked on.

Integrated measures

Moreover, UAE has already established a Nuclear Energy Program Implementation Organization as recommended by the IAEA.” It will operate under a civilian set-up. In order to make it nuclear program more secure and transparent the UAE will draft a comprehensive national nuclear law” which establishes a fully independent nuclear regulatory authority. UAE is also offering joint ventures to many renowned to foreign investors for the construction and operation of future nuclear power plants which verifies it strong commitment for non-proliferation and peaceful usages of nuclear energy in the days to come

The UAE joined the Nonproliferation Treaty in 1996. It cooperates with the Missile Technology Control Regime. UAE is also a partner nation on the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Dubai Port participates in the US Department of Energy’s Mega ports Initiative, a cooperative effort aimed at deterring terrorists from using the world’s seaports to ship illicit materials; detecting nuclear or radioactive materials if shipped via sea cargo; and interdicting harmful materials so they cannot be used by terrorists.

Moreover, the UAE is a signatory to the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which is aimed at stopping shipments of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials worldwide. The UAE participates in the US Container Security Initiative (CSI), a security regime that includes a team of US Customs and Border Protection officers permanently stationed inside Dubai’s ports. All these diversified but integrated measures show that UAE nuclear program will be a role model for other regional countries.

(g) Peaceful nuclear energy program

Peafowl nuclear energy is right of every country. IAEA and many other security watch-dog organizations have endorsed it. It is the legitimate right of every nation to have peaceful nuclear program to fulfill its energy needs. Time and again UAE has reaffirmed its peaceful intentions about its nuclear program. So no ambiguity should be left.

(h) Strategic decision

According to Center of strategic & International Studies (2009) the UAE’s nuclear pursuit is a strategic decision meant to ensure the country’s future development. There is a growing demand for energy in the Levant and Maghreb, and Gulf States are keen to diversify their energy options. Over a dozen Arab states have announced plans to develop nuclear power programmes and are in various stages of negotiations or research and development. France, the Russian Federation and the United States are once again key players seeking to influence nuclear developments in the Middle East.

(i) Regional power play

According to the John Chipman, publication entitled “Nuclear Programs in the Middle East: in the Shadow of Iran, the UAE nuclear program is initiated to counter or mange the increasing Iran’s geo-political and geo-strategic interest in the region.

The frequency and trust-worthiness of bilateral relations between the two countries has badly affected with growing concerns in the Gulf regarding the development of the Bushehr reactor and Natanz enrichment facility and the potential militarization of the Iranian program; missile tests and naval exercises; and growing Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. Moreover, Gulf States fear has been further enhanced manifold by the Iranian transfer of the Strait of Hormuz to Revolutionary Guards control in September 2008. Afterwards, UAE-Iranian bilateral relations suffered a further blow with the Iranian decision to site maritime offices on a disputed island situated adjacent to key shipping lanes last year.

On the contrary, the UAE has traditionally enjoyed a closer relationship to Tehran than most Gulf States. Bilateral trade volumes are on the rise too.

(j) Self-reliance motive

If we analysis the geo-political and geo-strategic history of the Middle East we conclude that different nuclear programs of many Middle East countries have been completely destroyed. So, according to many strategist experts it is supposed to be one of the main reasons of UAE nuclear program. The destruction of two nuclear installations by the Israel forced UAE to achieve its own nuclear program and protect its country. The Osirak nuclear power plant of Iraq was destroyed in an Israeli air raid on June 7, 1981. A more recent Syria allegedly developed nuclear program was destroyed by Israel last year. Lebanon war of 2006 also remained one of the main actors of UAE decision of nuclear program. Notwithstanding, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have also showed their interest in going nuclear. So, the decision of the UAE is well-timed, well-executed and well-planned.

(k) United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals endorsement

The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and other international agencies have already expressed the right of having nuclear energy programs to sustainable development. So, the UAE energy pursuits should not be treated a special case or extra smart move in the regional context.

(l) Regional energy dynamics

In February 2007 the six states agreed with the (IAEA to cooperate on a feasibility study for a regional nuclear power and desalination program. The six nations are all signatories of the NPT and the UAE ratified a safeguards agreement with IAEA in 2003.

During 2006 and 2007, more than 10 Arab states announced an interest in exploring nuclear power plans, and several have begun negotiations or discussions with international bodies over facility and fuel possibilities. French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Middle Eastern Arab states during December 2007 and January 2008 to marketed French nuclear technology. France gained deals or offers of nuclear technical advice for Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

(m) Peaceful energy pursuits

The USA signed a bilateral nuclear energy cooperation agreement with the UAE in January 2009. The UAE pursued a memorandums of understanding with France January 2008, the U.S. (April 2008), the UK (May 2008) and Japan (December 2008). . Furthermore, in January (2009) three French companies (Areva, Suez and Total) signed a partnership agreement to propose to the UAE the construction of two 1600 MWe EPR units at Abu Dhabi, with majority local equity. They signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995 and have re-affirmed their commitment to a Nuclear Weapons Free Gulf. The UAE has also renounced any intention to enrich or process nuclear fuel-thereby decreasing significantly any proliferation risk. Their message is clear: The UAE is not Iran.

Terms and conditions

Under the terms of this agreement, the UAE will gain access to significant capabilities and experience in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It will allow the UAE to develop its civilian nuclear program to the highest standards of safety, security and non proliferation. The agreement will open opportunities for US firms to be active participants in the UAE nuclear energy program.

Policy Statements

UAE’s leadership different policy statements reflect its views on the potential establishment of a peaceful civilian nuclear energy program

a) Complete operational transparency (The UAE has also established an independent nuclear regulatory authority staffed by Emirati and foreign experts that will work in coordination with the IAEA to monitor and enforce the transparency and safety measures that the country has committed
b) Highest standards of non-proliferation (IAEA to monitor and enforce the transparency and safety measures that the country has committed
c) Highest standards of safety and security (The recently signed Additional Protocol with many international regulatory organizations.
d) Work directly with the IAEA and conform to its standards in evaluating and potentially establishing a peaceful nuclear energy program.

Suggestions and concluding remarks

Peafowl nuclear program of the UAE is the need of the hour. UAE is following each and every instruction of the IAEA, adopting safe-guards of international monitoring agencies and implementing standard procedures of other nuclear security protection organizations in order to make its nuclear program a role model of total transparency, safety, accuracy and accessibility.

UAE government should and must put close eye on any regional geo-political and geo-strategic development initiated by the Israel, Iran, Egypt and Syria especially in nuclear technology/facility fields. It should also active its public relation and diplomacy experts to successfully counter the Lebanon propaganda machineries. It is suggested that UAE must protect its nuclear energy priorities and channelize it for the socio-economic betterment and further strengthening of geo-political & geo-strategic stability in the region. UAE should extend close cooperation with like minded sates and countries in the region.


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