The U.S.-UAE 123 Agreement on civil nuclear cooperation is set to come into force now that the mandatory 90-day period of congressional review has passed. The deal has the firm backing of the Obama administration, which sees it as a model for countries looking to introduce nuclear energy to their territories. For the UAE, the deal represents a reaffirmation of its close ties to the West as well as a gateway to developing a source of energy that, for a number of reasons, makes sense for the Emirates. The third-party beneficiary of the agreement, of course, is France, with its mature nuclear industry and supplier status.
At first glance, nuclear energy for a desert sheikhdom awash in oil and gas resources may seem incongruous. However, there are actually compelling reasons why the UAE has opted for this path -- not least being access to potable water. Nuclear power is the most effective means of desalinating water on a large scale. Not surprisingly, the UAE has signed agreements with U.S.-based Thorium Power Ltd., thereby indicating a desire for thorium-fueled high-temperature reactors that are optimized for both desalination purposes and hydrogen production. (The path to a hydrogen economy also goes through nuclear power.)
Also contributing to the interest is the fact that international climate change talks are clearly headed in a direction where no country can continue to ignore carbon emissions in generating electricity. The UAE has rather large power needs, with demand expected to reach 40,000 MWe by 2020. Nuclear energy is the best way to address these requirements without using gas, which the UAE would rather sell for profit anyway.