As the home of the federal seat and the location of the great majority of the UAE’s oil reserves, Abu Dhabi has played a key role in developing the country’s reputation as a major political and economic player. While trade and other economic ties have been central to the UAE’s foreign policy for years, over the past decade energy policy, in particular, has become a cornerstone of the government’s diplomatic efforts.

In 2008 the government published a policy for the evaluation and potential development of peaceful nuclear power, and subsequently announced plans to develop a civilian nuclear power programme. The government has worked with a host of foreign powers and international consortia on all aspects of the plan, including drawing up a comprehensive regulatory framework, building the infrastructure to support the network, constructing the plants themselves, and developing and implementing safeguards and security measures.

FAR-FLUNG FRIENDSHIPS: The UAE’s foreign policy is based on a handful of key objectives, which include facilitating the growth of the nation’s international trade and investments; building up technical diplomatic capacity at home; and promoting the UAE’s position as a regional leader in energy and environmental protection. Over recent years, hydrocarbons and related products have accounted for more than 90% of Abu Dhabi’s exports, with the great majority of local production going to a handful of Asian countries, according to the Statistics Centre – Abu Dhabi.

In 2010 more than 75% of Abu Dhabi’s total crude oil exports of 747m barrels went to just four nations: Japan, South Korea, Thailand and India. The top four recipients of its refined petroleum exports in 2011, meanwhile, were the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, which together accounted for around 55% of the emirate’s refined exports.

COOPERATION: Abu Dhabi’s strong existing economic and diplomatic relations have helped facilitate the development of the UAE’s nuclear programme. In December 2009 the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, the government-owned firm charged with building and operating the country’s nuclear power infrastructure, awarded a $20bn contract to the Korea Electric Power Corporation to build the first civilian nuclear power plant in the Middle East. The first of four plants, each of which will have a capacity of 1400 MW, is to come on-line in mid-2017, with one additional facility completed each year until 2020. Nuclear energy will provide baseload electricity to power growth while saving 12m tonnes of CO emissions each year. In addition to South Korea, in its drive to bring nuclear power to the Gulf the UAE has established close working relationships with various nations and international entities. Most recently, in September 2012 it signed an agreement that will allow Canadian firms to supply uranium, equipment and services to ENEC. This follows a similar agreement made with Australia in August 2012.

The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, established in September 2009, has a mandate to regulate the industry in line with the country’s numerous multilateral and bilateral agreements and treaties. In addition to its membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UAE is a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and has entered into bilateral nuclear-related agreements with South Korea, Japan, France, the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Finland. The country has also appointed an independent International Advisory Board (IAB) to provide a regular assessment of the nuclear programme. The board, which meets on a biannual basis and reports directly to the UAE’s Council of Ministers, is composed of a number of international nuclear experts.

Headed by Hans Blix, the former head of the IAEA and the UN’s Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, the board’s other members include the chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the president of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, and a professor of nuclear and mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in addition to nuclear experts from South Korea, France and Finland.