Middle Eastern nations do nuclear diplomacy

25 March 2008

Middle Eastern diplomats have been busy, with new nuclear cooperation agreements signed by Egypt and Russia, Bahrain and the USA, and Algeria and China. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates has established its own agency to look into developing nuclear power.


Russia and Egypt's agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy has been billed in the press as the culmination of years of preparation. The agreement was signed by Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia's Rosatom nuclear energy agency, and Egyptian Energy Minister Hassan Younis during a visit by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to Russia. According to reports it will clear the way for Russia to participate in a tender to build Egypt's first nuclear power plant. In 2006, Egypt announced plans to build a 1000 MWe reactor for electricity generation and water desalination at El-Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast by 2015, in a $1.5-$2 billion project that would be open to foreign participation.


A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on nuclear energy cooperation between the USA and Bahrain was signed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid of Bahrain in a ceremony at the White House. The US State Department described the agreement as "a tangible expression of the United States' desire to cooperate with states in the Middle East, and elsewhere, that want to develop peaceful nuclear power in a manner consistent with the highest standards of safety, security and nonproliferation and thereby serve as models for the responsible pursuit of the benefits of nuclear technology." Under the terms of the MOU, Bahrain affirmed its intention to forgo sensitive fuel cycle technologies and rely on existing international markets for nuclear fuel. Khalid also formally gave Bahrain's endorsement to the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, becoming the 67th nation to join. Bahrain is one of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states that are engaged in studies into the possibility of developing nuclear power, possibly for desalination, in the region.


In yet more ceremonies, the governments of Algeria and China signed an accord on developing peaceful nuclear power, while Algeria's Energy and Mines Ministry and China's atomic energy agency signed an accord on training, research and human resources, according to the Algerian press. Algeria has already signed similar accords with Russia, the USA and France.


United Arab Emirates sets up agency


The United Arab Emirates (UAE), also part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has announced its intention to establish a Nuclear Energy Implementation Organization to "evaluate the establishment of a peaceful nuclear programme." It has set aside a reported $100 million to fund the agency. A memorandum on the country's nuclear energy policy issued after a cabinet meeting on 23 March noted that the country has no plans to enrich uranium itself but would import nuclear fuel for any future power plants. According to a government statement, the UAE has said it will work closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), ratify international non-proliferation and safety agreements and pass legislation to govern the nuclear sector, as well as establish a nuclear regulatory authority and an international advisory board of nuclear experts. The statement said that the UAE would offer joint ventures to foreign investors to build and operate potential power plants "using only advanced third-generation light water reactors."


Earlier this year, the UAE signed an agreement to cooperate on the development of nuclear energy, and a consortium of French companies signed a partnership deal to submit plans for a nuclear power plant project in the country.