In a step which indicates that the UAE's plans for developing a civil nuclear energy programme are gaining momentum, the UAE Federal Law No. 6 of 2009 Regarding the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy received presidential ratification on Sunday 4 October 2009.

This development is likely to interest all stakeholders in the global nuclear industry in particular those who are interested participating in the UAE's plans to develop a fleet of nuclear power plants.

At the time of writing this legislation has not been made publicly available. We anticipate that it will represent a key element in the legal infrastructure the UAE is putting in place in order to pursue its goal of developing civil nuclear energy within the framework of its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Three new entities established

The UAE's civil nuclear energy programme is a Federal scheme. As it currently appears likely that any nuclear plants constructed in the early stages of the programme will be located in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, we have focused on the relevant provisions of Abu Dhabi law as well as UAE Federal law in this bulletin.

In April 2008 the UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a policy statement entitled “Policy of the United Arab Emirates on the Evaluation and Potential Development of Peaceful Nuclear Energy”.

Following the publication of this statement, a roadmap was developed which anticipated the establishment of three government entities to operate, regulate and provide broad oversight for the UAE's nuclear energy programme:

  • the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) – a wholly Abu Dhabi-owned corporate entity charged with developing nuclear power plants within the UAE. ENEC will contract with a primary contractor for the construction of Abu Dhabi’s nuclear plants;
  • the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) – an independent federal agency charged with regulating and licensing all nuclear energy activities in the UAE with public safety as its primary objective; and
  • the International Advisory Board (IAB) – this advisory body, which will include former heads of national regulatory bodies, nuclear industry leaders, and recognised academic authorities, will report directly to the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and provide independent assessments of the status and performance of the various entities associated with the UAE's civil nuclear programme.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation will facilitate development

ENEC has been established as the Nuclear Energy Program Implementation Organization for the United Arab Emirates. ENEC is working with the guidance of the International Atomic Energy Agency and will now, pursuant to the new law, be regulated by the new Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR).

ENEC's responsibilities include the promotional and preparatory activities required to facilitate the deployment of civil nuclear power in the UAE, incorporating the development of plans for the programme, the performance of relevant feasibility studies, and the development of non-regulatory infrastructure. ENEC is also responsible for developing effective public information and stakeholder engagement programmes.

ENEC will also be the investment arm of the Federal and Abu Dhabi Governments that, in collaboration with foreign partners, will be responsible for the deployment, ownership and operation of nuclear power plants within the UAE, while making strategic investments in the nuclear sector, both domestically and internationally.

New law will establish a licensing regime

Although the full text of the new law has not yet been published, its key features are described as covering:

  • the establishment of FANR with the mandate described above;
  • the development of a system for the licensing and control of nuclear material; and
  • a range of civil and criminal penalties for violating the law, including the unauthorized use, theft, transport or trade in nuclear materials.

The law also gives a legal basis to some of the principles set out in the 2008 policy statement, including a prohibition on the development, construction or operation of uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing facilities within the borders of the UAE.

In conjunction with the passage of the new law the Federal Cabinet also passed a resolution appointing the members of FANR's Board of Management.

The UAE signs additional Conventions

The UAE became a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1996, and in April 2009 signed an Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement between the UAE and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Additional Protocol further strengthens the UAE's commitment to non-proliferation as it undertakes the civil nuclear programme and will come into effect when the UAE proceeds with nuclear development.

Earlier this year the UAE also accepted the recent Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and signed two Conventions:

  • the Convention on Nuclear Safety; and
  • the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.

While we anticipate that the new law will provide for the UAE's compliance with its obligations under these Conventions, to the extent it does not, further legislation may be necessary.

Programme to follow IWPP structure

One of the principles set out in the 2008 policy statement is that the nuclear energy programme would follow a very similar contractual structure to that used in previous independent water and power projects (IWPPs) in the UAE. As a result, much of the UAE's existing power and environmental legislation will continue to be of relevance to the nuclear sector.

It remains to be seen how the detail of the new law will interact with the UAE's pre-existing legal framework. In our experience, existing laws governing IWPPs may need to be adapted for nuclear development.