Future of Nuclear Power in Emerging Markets: United Arab Emirates

Forum on Energy’’s Emerging Market Series takes a country-by-country look at the future of nuclear power in emerging markets. While many are rolling back their use of nuclear energy in the wake of Fukushima, there still seems to be a clear effort by emerging nations to make nuclear energy a major part of their future. Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, China, Turkey, India and Finland are just a few of the nations Forum On Energy will highlight in its Emerging Market Series.


UAE_01The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is determined to become a global role model for the countries interested in exploring nuclear energy for the first time.

The UAE is known for its vast reserves of crude oil and natural gas, which have been the foundation of the country’s economy since its declaration of independence from the United Kingdom in 1971. Recent surges in electricity consumption due to rapid economic and demographic growth and changing lifestyles are overwhelming the country’s electricity grids, pushing the UAE to seek alternative energy sources. In 2008, the UAE government announced its interest in nuclear energy as a new, sustainable source of energy to meet the country’s electricity demand and diversify the energy mix.

Abu Dhabi Electricity and Water Authority (Adwea), Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa), Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (Sewa), and the Federal Electricity and Power Authority (Fewa) are the four power producers in the UAE. In 2011, they generated 104,142 gigawatt hours (GWH), but the country’s consumption of 95,508 GWH almost reached its capacity. With its demand projected to increase by approximately 9 percent per year, the UAE has an urgent need to expand its power production capacity.

(Image credit: WorldAtlas)

(Image credit: WorldAtlas)

The third-largest exporter of crude oil in the world, the UAE mainly supplies oil to Asian markets, with the largest share going to Japan. There are six export terminals, with the one in Fujairah on the coast of the Gulf of Oman is deemed most important because of its freedom from the piracy risks associated with the Strait of Hormuz. There are plans to expand the Fujairah terminal’s storage capacity from 8 million barrels of crude oil to 12 million barrels in the near future.

(Image credit: EIA)

(Image credit: EIA)

Although the UAE owns the vast 215 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proved natural gas reserves and became the eleventh-largest producer in 2011, the nation is a net importer of natural gas and a prolific oil producer. The UAE mainly imports natural gas from Qatar via the Dolphin Gas Project’s pipeline, which runs from Qatar to Oman through the UAE. In 2011, the UAE received approximately 97 percent of natural gas imports from Qatar, 95 percent of which was transported via the pipeline.

The UAE is the first exporter of LNG in the Middle East. They export LNG to Asian countries such as India, Kuwait and Taiwan, but mostly to Japan.

(Image credit: Dolphin Energy)

(Image credit: Dolphin Energy)

The unstable supply of the electric power has been a main concern in the UAE society. There have been several service disruptions in the past decade due to delayed arrival of natural gas shipments from the Dolphin pipeline project, which led to the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) grid in 2012. The GCC grid links Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE under one regional grid in order to reduce the number of power outages and enable power exchanges across seasons and time zones as necessary.

In parallel with its effort to create stability in hydrocarbon-based electricity, the UAE strives to establish a new, efficient energy source to meet the future demand.

Nuclear Background

After the government first announced its interest in nuclear energy in 2008, the UAE Federal Law No.6 of 2009 Regarding the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy was signed into effect to enable the development of a system for licensing and control of nuclear material. This led to the establishment of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) and later the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC). FANR is responsible for regulating nuclear energy industry and licensing nuclear energy activities in the UAE, and ENEC for the construction and operation of nuclear plants and the distribution of electricity throughout the country with federal authorities.

Currently, the UAE relies entirely on fossil fuels for electricity and desalination. With the country’s electricity demand projected to rise from 15.5 GW to 40 GW by 2020, the government aims to have up to 25 percent of electricity generated by nuclear energy. The nuclear energy development is expected to fulfill the UAE’s need for energy-extensive desalination, commitment to decarbonization and development of industries.

Barakah Units 1 & 2

In December 2009, a coalition led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) was awarded a $20 billion bid to build the first nuclear power plant in the UAE among other rivals from France, Japan and the United States. Although Areva pointed out that the UAE had selected Korea’s APR-1400 design for its cheaper cost and shorter construction time after the decision, Mohammed Al Hammadi, CEO of ENEC, said KEPCO was chosen for its “world-class safety performance.” The construction of APR-1400 unit 1 at the Barakah site in the Western Region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi was begun in July 2012 and will be completed in 2017. Also, the second APR-1400 reactor has been under construction since May 2013 and is expected to be completed in 2018.

The Barakah site was selected based on the analysis and guidance of FANR, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They analyzed the location’s seismic history, security, distance from populated areas, proximity to large supplies of water and environmental conditions. Barakah was discovered to be an area with “low seismicity” — or a low probability of earthquakes.

There are four APR-1400 reactors currently under construction in South Korea to serve as “reference plants” for the UAE’s nuclear plant project. The design will be adapted to suit the unique environmental conditions of the UAE.

Future Plans: Units 3 & 4

The ENEC filed the Construction License Application for Bakarah Units 3 and 4 with FANR in March of this year. The two reactors are projected to be completed and online by 2020. When all four are connected to the grid, they will produce 5.6 GW of electricity and save 12 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Human Resources

ENEC, FANR and Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KUSTAR) are working on programs to develop human resource capability for the UAE nuclear energy program. The three organizations created the UAE Nuclear Energy Scholarships to provide opportunities for Emirati men and women to study for Bachelor’s Degrees and Master’s Degrees in various engineering fields at colleges and universities in the UAE, the Unite States, France, Korea and the UK. The students who have received a scholarship are required to work for ENEC, FANR or KUSTAR for a certain period of time after graduation.

The Higher Diploma in Nuclear Technology (HDNT) program was developed by the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT) in collaboration with ENEC and KEPCO to train students in the fundamentals of engineering, nuclear technology and APR-1400 systems. The program also provides four academic quarters of on-the-job training in South Korea.

The Senior Reactor Operator Pilot Program involves qualified engineers in basic training in plant systems and fundamentals of nuclear technology with more than 480 hours of simulator training to develop a cadre of manager and senior-level supervisors.

ENEC, IAT, KEPCO and the Seoul-based Sudo Electric Technical High School offer a program for high-school students to travel to Korea and study practical and theoretical aspects of civil nuclear energy during the summer.

Nuclear Policy: Safe, Open & Peaceful

Upon pursuing its nuclear energy program, the UAE has emphasized the value of safety above all other aspects of nuclear energy through international cooperation. The United States signed an agreement with the UAE for peaceful nuclear energy cooperation (123 Agreement) in 2009, and many other nations such as South Korea, France, Russia, Argentina and Japan have also signed the bilateral nuclear cooperation. The UAE is resolved to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. In that regard, the government announced its decision to forgo domestic enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel, the two parts of the nuclear fuel cycle that can be most readily used for weapons.

The country’s approach towards nuclear safety and operation transparency has won support from the international community, and the UAE continues to proceed with its civil nuclear energy program to establish a “gold standard” for nuclear energy development worldwide.


The UAE has a history of housing front companies and foreign trading agencies that procure dual-use items — items with civilian and military applications — for entities in countries under sanction. The A. Q. Khan network was established in Dubai to smuggle nuclear technology to countries such as Iran, Libya and North Korea. This background would cost the UAE a significant amount of time and effort to control illicit trafficking and maintain border security. Also, there are concerns regarding its strategies for nuclear waste management and disaster management. The UAE has not yet finalized its decision, but is searching for available options.


The UAE is a federation of seven constituent monarchies: the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwain. According to convention, the ruler of Abu Dhabi is President of the UAE, or the head of state, and the ruler of Dubai is the Prime Minister, or the head of government. Each emirate has a separate ruler who is in charge of the local government and has control over mineral rights and revenues.

>>Forum On Energy took a previous look at the UAE in May of 2012. Read the post here.