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Thursday, January 6, 2011

The United Arab Emirates Nuclear Program and Proposed U.S. Nuclear Cooperation

Christopher M. Blanchard
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

Paul K. Kerr
Analyst in Nonproliferation

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has embarked on a program to build civilian nuclear power plants and is seeking cooperation and technical assistance from the United States and others. The 111th Congress approved a U.S.-UAE bilateral agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation pursuant to Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed the proposed agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation with the UAE January 15, 2009. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg signed a new version of the agreement May 21, 2009; the Obama Administration submitted the proposed agreement to Congress the same day.

Congress had the opportunity to review the proposed agreement for 90 days of continuous session, a period which ended on October 17, 2009. The UAE cabinet approved the agreement on October 26. The agreement entered into force after the two governments exchanged diplomatic notes on December 17, 2009. The agreement text states the intent of both governments to cooperate in a number of areas including, but not limited to, the development of the UAE’s “civilian nuclear energy use in a manner that contributes to global efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation” and, “the establishment of reliable sources of nuclear fuel for future civilian light water reactors deployed” in the UAE. In January 2010, the UAE announced that it had chosen the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO of South Korea) to construct four APR1400 reactors. During 2010, the UAE’s administrative preparations have continued apace, including site selection, environmental surveys, and security planning. All four plants are scheduled to be online by 2020. The UAE brought into force the Additional Protocol to its IAEA Safeguards agreement on December 20, 2010.

Some members of Congress welcomed the UAE government’s stated commitments not to pursue proliferation-sensitive nuclear capabilities, such as uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing. Other members signaled their intention to weigh the proposed bilateral agreement in light of parallel and specific concerns about the UAE’s cooperation with international efforts (such as sanctions) to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, as well as the potential proliferation or safety risks inherent to exporting U.S. nuclear technology.

In the 111
th Congress, legislation was introduced that would have required President Obama to certify that the UAE had taken a number of steps to strengthen its export controls and stem illicit trade with Iran before any agreement could come into effect or related U.S. exports of nuclear technology to the UAE could be approved. In 2007, the UAE adopted a stronger export control law, but as of mid-2010 had not issued implementing regulations for the law or fully staffed a national export control body to enforce it. In the interim, export control enforcement functions remain the responsibility of authorities in the UAE’s individual emirates, in coordination with a new national interagency Committee on Commodities Subject to Import and Export Control established in April 2009. According to UAE officials, cooperation with the United States has resulted in a number of joint interdiction operations.

This report provides background information on the UAE nuclear program, reviews developments to date, analyzes proposed nuclear cooperation with the United States, and discusses relevant legislative proposals and options. See also CRS Report RS21852, The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman, and CRS Report RS22937, Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer, by Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin.

Date of Report: December 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R40344
Price: $29.95

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