UAE will participate in major nuclear conference in Vienna

Originally published in The National (UAE)

Some of the major issues to be addressed include the Middle East, with Arab states calling on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation has announced that more than 55 per cent of Unit 1 at the Barakah complex is complete. Courtesy ENEC
Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation has announced that more than 55 per cent of Unit 1 at the Barakah complex is complete. Courtesy ENEC

ABU DHABI // The UAE will participate in a major annual nuclear conference in Vienna next week to discuss countries’ atomic activities and plans for the future.

Arab states are expected to use the event to urge Israel to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and place all its facilities under safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“The UAE exhibit will feature a showcase of the UAE nuclear programme progress as well as information on the close cooperation activities with the agency,” said Hamad Alkaabi, the UAE permanent representative to the IAEA.

“The UAE delegation looks forward to the conference and we have scheduled many side meetings with senior agency officials and other delegations to discuss nuclear cooperation and issues of mutual interest.”

Last week, Abu Dhabi was issued licences for its third and fourth nuclear reactors at Barakah.

Countries will report on their nuclear activities, plans and cooperation with the agency, and outline their positions on issues ranging from non-proliferation and verification to applications in medicine and agriculture.

“The 58th General Conference is the highest decision-making organ of the IAEA,” said John Bernhard, Denmark’s former ambassador to the IAEA.

“It meets once a year for a week and reviews work done during the previous year and decides on matters for the future. Thereby, it has a decisive influence on the priorities and the political and technical issues dealt with by the IAEA.”

Mr Bernhard said the agenda covered all major issues dealt with by the agency, including nuclear safety and security, technical cooperation and safeguards issues, such as “the Iranian case”, as well as the question of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

“This is an opportunity to focus on a whole spectrum of IAEA issues and hear from countries and their representatives beyond the formal membership,” said Elena Sokova, executive director at the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. “It is also an opportunity for countries to promote their work in the area of nuclear energy and its peaceful applications. In this regard, the UAE, as a country with a recently launched and fast-growing nuclear power programme, brings a very important experience to share with the broad international community and member states of the IAEA.”

Member states will also be able to express their expectations and needs to the work of the agency as well as indicate focal points and endorse the IAEA’s working programme for the next cycle, from 2016 to 2018.

“They can emphasise their view on the importance of the agency’s programmes by making extra-budgetary funds available, earmarked for specific projects,” said Dr Peter Bode, an associate professor in nuclear science and engineering at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. “It is a moment for networking at the political level, for building alliances and getting informed about latest developments and technologies.”

William Tobey, a senior research fellow at the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University in the US, said the conference was “always an opportunity for member states to compare notes on issues related to safe, secure and proliferation-resistant use of nuclear energy, such as improving the security of fissile material”.

Lady Barbara Judge, former head of the UK Atomic Energy Agency, said it was vital for countries to reaffirm the importance of nuclear energy as a source of clean baseload generation.

“In this time, when the change is on everyone’s mind, one of the most important [issues] is that the only [clean] source of baseload generation is nuclear,” said Lady Judge, also the deputy chairman of the nuclear reform monitoring committee of the Tokyo Electric Power Company.

“Wind and solar may be very worthy but, at the moment, they can’t be relied upon as baseload generation because they essentially work only when wind blows or sun shines.”