Nuclear power facilities are notoriously slow to develop and the UAE surprised many with the speed in which it moved forward plans to build four nuclear power units.

It typically takes 10-15 years for the planning, construction and grid-reinforcement period, but Abu Dhabi has said it expects to bring its reactors online by 2017, and its chosen contractor, a team led by South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), believes it can deliver on schedule.

The UAE’s success in moving ahead plans so quickly means it is now far from alone with its nuclear power ambitions. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Iran, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and Syria have all unveiled atomic energy plans.

However, the pace of development of such projects has not been matched by the creation of accompanying legal and regulatory frameworks. Although Abu Dhabi has been fast to move ahead with construction contracts, it still has much regulatory work to undertake.

Countries serious about developing their own nuclear units must have domestic legal structures that comply with international treaty obligations and include a suitable liability regime.

A regulatory authority to oversee the sector, and processes for licensing and inspection must also be established, in addition to safety procedures and the safe disposal of spent fuel.

Governments should look to the International Atomic Energy Agency for guidance.

So far, countries have taken steps to fulfil the basic requirements to develop a nuclear power programme in signing up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and forming cooperation agreements. States will need to follow through with the creation of oversight bodies and detailed legal and regulatory structures if the sector is to develop.

Without a more structured approach, planned projects will frequently encounter roadblocks and risk becoming a concern to the international community.