The Globalization Effects of UAE Nuclear Energy

Justin Buck
February 20, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: CEO of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation meets with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano at the Barakah Nuclear Construction Site. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The United Arab Emirates is home to the seventh largest supply of oil reserves. Due to the relatively cheap production cost of oil and gas and the rapid economic expansion and subsequent population boom, the UAE boasts one of the highest per capita energy consumption in the world. Annual energy consumption of its citizens is expected to increase by a compound rate of 9% from 2007 to 2020. Consequently, UAE officials decided that nuclear energy was the most suitable way to meet their energy needs. By early 2010, the UAE had selected South Korean government-owned electric company Korea Electric Power Corporation to lead their $20B construction of four APR1400-type reactors. [1]

Global Agreements

Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act requires countries that trade nuclear materials, equipment, and components with the U.S. to sign contracts committing nuclear energy seeking countries to adhere themselves to U.S. nuclear safety standards. [2] In early 2009, the UAE signed a 123 agreement with the United States, signaling their commitment to an uncontested move towards nuclear energy. [1] The UAE also entered into contractual agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, a nuclear governing body that verifies the details behind States' nuclear programs and nuclear materials trade. [3] Fig. 1 was taken during a meeting between the IAEA and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation.

Both contracts helped alleviate other countries' concerns, allowing for greater trade and globalization possibilities. For example, in the five years following the U.S. 123 agreement, the UAE entered nuclear contracts with Canada, Russia, Japan, France, Australia, the United Kingdom, and a few other countries. These contracts allowed for an influx of nuclear knowledge, equipment, and material into the UAE. In March 2010, the United States partnered with Abu Dhabi officials to construct the Gulf Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Institution, an educational institution established to train workers in nuclear related fields. Additionally, in July 2012, Australia entered a contract to supply the UAE with 15 years' worth of nuclear reactor fluid. [1]

The South Korea and UAE Deal

The Barakah Nuclear Project was not the first substantial agreement between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the UAE. The ROK and UAE have previously entered trade agreements in finance, healthcare, and non- nuclear energy. This nuclear deal offered both countries the opportunity to strengthen their economic relationship. Within the contract, the ROK and UAE agreed to cooperate in areas such as renewable energy, education, shipbuilding, information communications technology, and human resource development. The ROK also agreed to provide UAE militaristic special forces training and exchange military technology. [4]

U.S. Involvement

Given that the U.S. is the largest security benefactor to the UAE, UAE officials wanted to ensure not to offend the U.S. through this nuclear deal. The UAE chose the ROK knowing that the U.S. would not object to a ROK and UAE nuclear contract due to the strong diplomatic and economic relationship between the ROK and the U.S., the fact that the nuclear design was of U.S. origin, and the fact that a U.S. company, Westinghouse, was significantly involved in the plant production. [4]

© Justin Buck. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] Y. Guzanksy, "Below-the-Threshold Nuclear Development: The Nuclear Program in the UAE," Institute for National Security Studies, Strategic Assessment 18, No. 3, 69 (October 2015).

[2] G. Norris, "International Aspects of the United States Atomic Energy Act of 1954," German Yearbook of International Law 5, 168 (1955).

[3] T. Hirsch, "The IAEA Additional Protocol: What It Is and Why It Matters," Nonproliferation Review 11, No. 3, 140 (Winter 2004).

[4] C. Kane and M. A. Pomper, "Reactor Race: South Korea's Nuclear Export Successes and Challenges," Korea Economic Institute of America, 21 May 13.