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Nuclear Energy in the Arab Market

By Najib Saab
January 2007

As soon as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries declared in their summit their intentions for reviewing joint programmes for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced his support and offered his country's assistance in transferring nuclear technology to its Arab neighbors. This announcement has been preceded by President George Bush's declaration about the "Global Nuclear Energy Partnership" that supports the establishment of nuclear plants around the world to produce electricity. Bush's programme aims to divide the world into two blocs: one allowed to enrich uranium and produce and export nuclear fuel, composed of the USA, France, UK, Russia and China: the second, composed of all other countries, is to be considered user of nuclear fuel and thus restricted to produce energy from pre-enriched uranium and ready-made technology imported from countries of the first category.

Customers have sent their orders and the exporters consortium is ready to deliver, at a price. Do Arab countries really need nuclear energy plants while they are located in areas that are not only blessed with excessive production of conventional energy but also with renewable energy sources, especially the sun and wind? What would the Arabs benefit if they become only a market for which the sellers of ready-made nuclear equipment compete? Do we really need to push the Arab region to the nuclear hell that abounds with potential risks from radioactive pollution accidents from nuclear energy plants, regardless of how "peaceful" they are, like what happened in Chernobyl?

It is understandable to seek the ownership of nuclear energy if it is a part of a comprehensive plan to develop scientific research capacities. Such a plan would have priorities of itself, from medical sciences to earth and space research, including climate change, agriculture, combating desertification and water desalination. What are the Arabs' contributions to the global scientific endeavors? What is the added value of importing the latest medical products including medical doctors themselves, while Arab leaders still head to hospitals in the USA and Europe whenever they get the slightest symptoms of illness?

What our countries need is supporting scientific research for development purposes, in a pattern that makes them partners in technology and not only importers of ready-made equipment, whether nuclear or medical.

It is ironic that at a time when countries which own the biggest global reserve of oil declare their desire to build nuclear plants as an alternative energy source, the UK has announced the establishment of the biggest offshore "wind farm" for electricity production from wind turbines. The plant that will be built 20 Km away from the English shore will include 341 turbines expected to generate 1000 MW of electricity. Later, the British government announced plans to build another wind farm with a capacity of 300 MW. Both plants will be able to deliver power to about one third of London's households. This development is within the context of a British plan for transition to renewable energy sources for electricity production at a rate of 20% by 2020. It is noteworthy that the two giant oil companies Shell and BP are major stakeholders in the British wind farm projects.

Denmark, on the other hand, has managed to make the share of renewable energy exceed 20% of electricity needs in 2006. Germany, Spain and Holland are taking major steps to implement wider applications for energy production from the sun and wind, while some European reports emphasize that 200 million European households will get electricity from wind and 25 millions from the sun by 2020.

Nuclear energy is not necessarily the clean and appropriate alternative for oil. As oil will remain to be the major source of energy in the coming decades, efforts will continue to develop technologies that will make oil uses less polluting and more efficient. During this time, oil producing countries are ought to use their increased income to build their own capacities in science and technology based on national priorities that respond to the needs of their population. It is worthwhile to develop plans to use the Arab fortune of sun and wind, and build plants that produce compressed Hydrogen as an energy carrier, alongside investing in technologies of clean use of oil, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Beware falling victims to diabolic plans to globalize the nuclear horror.

Arab Environment in 10 Years
ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
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