The Nuclear Energy Gulf between Iran and the United Arab Emirates

The ongoing question of Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities highlights some main topics of contemporary nuclear proliferation themes: should any Muslim state be permitted to have nuclear weapons and capabilities, should any non-democratic state be permitted to have nuclear weapons and capabilities and is nuclear energy more environmentally cleaner and cheaper than other available alternatives. In theory and with all due respect to Iran and her antagonists it is possible to argue justifiably with substantial and sustainable evidence both for and against all three topics, separately. However when all three topics coalesce with the pugnacious statements of Iran’s leadership against other countries in the region, then the argument sways in favor of Iran’s adversaries. Namely Iran should not be permitted to have any form of nuclear capability especially not enrichment facilities. Part and parcel of the argument is that Iran also has a nuclear weapon delivery capability in the form of missiles and has a history of using these against her neighbors, for example Iraq.

To mitigate any accusation that the world is ganging up unfairly against Iran it is worthy to justify any decision of sanctions, embargoes and harsher action by offering a comparative case. The case in question is the nuclear program of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is also a Muslim country, the UAE is also a non-democratic state and the UAE is also seeking nuclear energy because it claims it is environmentally cleaner and cheaper than other available alternatives. However unlike Iran, the UAE is not making bellicose statements against its neighbors, the UAE doesn’t have a missile program or nuclear weapon delivery capabilities, the UAE doesn’t have a history of war with its neighbors and the UAE is not seeking enrichment facilities.

The UAE nuclear program started with a study in 2006 with other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and in collaboration with France. All are signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Currently all the GCC electricity production including home, industrial and water desalination is from fossil fuels. The result of the study was a $20 billion contract with a South Korean consortium to build four commercial nuclear power reactors to be operational by 2020 and in service for 60 years. These reactors will produce electricity at a quarter of the cost of gas with a target of providing 12% of the UAE’s energy needs by 2030. The fuel cycle contracts involve Canada-based Uranium One, UK-based Rio Tinto, France’s Areva and Russia’s Techsnabexport (Tenex) for the supply of uranium concentrates. For conversion services, contracts utilize the USA’s Converdyn, Tenex and Areva. Enrichment will be by Europe-based Urenco, Areva and Tenex.

There is no objection to the UAE nuclear program. The USA signed a bilateral nuclear energy cooperation agreement with the UAE in January 2009 and South Korea signed one in June 2009. The UK has signed a Memorandum of Understanding on nuclear energy cooperation with UAE. France and Canada have nuclear cooperation agreements with UAE, the latter signed in September 2012, Russia in December 2012, and Argentina signed one in January 2013, then another in April 2014. Japan signed a nuclear cooperation and technical transfer agreement with UAE in May 2013, and another in February 2014. Australia and Canada signed bilateral safeguards agreements with UAE in August and September 2012, and the Australian one came into force in April 2014.

The punch line has two parts. Firstly the case of the UAE proves that the world is not against Muslim nuclear capability for peaceful purposes, the world is not against non-democratic states pursuing nuclear capability for peaceful purposes and that nations of the world can appreciate any such program as being justified with arguments that nuclear energy is more environmentally cleaner and cheaper than other available alternatives. The second part of the punch line is that the UAE has taken this nuclear program one step further. The UAE is planning to share the generated energy with its neighbors. Iran on the other hand is threatening its neighbors. The GCC on 6 November 2012 completed the GCC Interconnection Project (GCCIP) linking all six countries electricity power grids. In addition to nuclear energy the GCC is investing in renewable energy development. The middle east has an abundance of sunshine and if this grid were to be joined to North African (EJILST) and European (Europagrid) grids then there would be substantial reductions in the use of fossil fuels.

Conventional wisdom informs that the Iran-Iraq war was an impetus for the creation of the GCC in 1981. Common sense informs that should a state wish to pursue a nuclear program for peaceful purposes then it should make all efforts to co-operate with international norms, adhere to international treaties, co-operate with its neighbors, and refrain from aggression. The case of UAE in comparison to Iran proves beyond doubt that a state can acquire atoms for peace with no objections from even Israel. Over the next days, weeks and months the world will once again focus its attention on Iran and its nuclear intentions where only Iran can blame itself for this attention.

Dr Glen Segell,

Fellow, Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies University of Haifa

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.