The UAE has approached at least nine international companies to manage its nuclear power programme, with the award of a contract expected by the end of the year.

The move comes following the launch of the government-backed Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) to oversee the development of nuclear power facilities.

Enec is evaluating the viability of nuclear energy plans and consulting with international firms that have experience of working on similar projects.

Khaldoun Khalifa al-Mubarak, head of the Executive Affairs Authority, has been appointed as acting chairman of Enec.

Enec has so far spoken to three UK firms – Amec, Arup and PB Power – and five US firms – Bechtel, CH2M Hill, Jacobs Group, Fluor Corporation and Parsons International – as well as Australia’s WorleyParsons.

They have been approached to provide programme management services. It is understood that Enic will prepare a shortlist of up to six companies before the consultancy contract is formally tendered in the summer. An award is expected to follow by October.

“In line with the UAE government’s commitments, the process of establishing Enec is well under way,” says a spokesman for the newly formed body. “In conjunction with its ongoing development, Enec held a meeting this week with a number of private companies with relevant experience in the nuclear industry to introduce them to the UAE’s plans.

“The meeting took place in Abu Dhabi and was part of a pre-qualifying process for companies that may eventually qualify to tender for the opportunity to perform the role of managing agent.”

The nuclear power project is still in its early stages, with details of the number, location or capacity of plants yet to be finalised.

Many observers expect Abu Dhabi to take the lead on the project, which means the plant is likely to be located in the emirate or in Fujairah. Abu Dhabi’s power plants are concentrated in Taweelah, where there are three. There is also one in Shuweihat and others are located at Umm al-Nar and Mirfa.

Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority (Adwea) also has power and desalination plants in Fujairah. The advantage of locating a nuclear plant on the east coast is the proximity to lower sea temperatures for cooling.

The nuclear programme comes in response to the soaring demand for power. The UAE will require 22,000MW of additional capacity over the next seven years, equivalent to 12 large conventional power stations. Dubai imports up to 700MW from Abu Dhabi and is planning to build 11,000MW of capacity by 2015.

The creation of Enec follows an earlier recommendation by the UN’s nuclear body, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that the UAE should set up a nuclear energy programme implementation office to evaluate potential programmes.

In April, the UAE confirmed that it would set up such a body. The spokesman for Enec says it is the first step in the UAE’s commitment to complete operational transparency for its nuclear programme.

In a white paper published the same month, the government said nuclear energy had been on the emirates’ agenda for more than a year as it struggles to maintain economic growth without any guaranteed supply of affordable energy, such as natural gas.

“In-depth studies carried out by government entities have shown that nuclear energy represents a commercially competitive and environmentally friendly option for the secure generation of electricity in the UAE, particularly in light of projected future shortages of natural gas,” said UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan at the time (MEED 20:4:07).

The emirates’ nuclear energy policy was developed in consultation with the IAEA and the governments of France, the US, the UK, Russia, China, Japan, Germany and South Korea. The federation’s Council of Ministers endorsed the document in March.

The UAE is one of several countries in the region pursuing nuclear power programmes. Earlier this year it signed a co-operation deal with the US, which was seen by the US as a precursor to a wider bilateral agreement.

France signed a similar deal during President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to the UAE in January. This was followed by a team of three French companies, Areva, Suez and Total, announcing plans to build a nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi.

Agreements have also been signed by France and Qatar, and the US and Bahrain. The individual deals have cast doubts over the future of a joint GCC nuclear power initiative.

The move towards nuclear power is not restricted to the Gulf. North African governments are also signing deals with Western partners to develop plants.

The most recent deal in North Africa came on 21 June when Algiers signed a civil nuclear co-operation deal with France during a visit by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon. It followed a previous nuclear energy pact signed late last year.