Nuclear energy an option for Gulf states

11 April 2007

Nuclear policies are at very early stages and their political context clouded, but even oil-rich Gulf nations are considering turning to nuclear to meet their energy needs.

Officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - have already announced their interest in a possible shared nuclear program. Speaking in January, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal said that any nuclear program would be developed "under strict controls and with peaceful intentions, to be an example for any country seeking to adopt the technology without any intention to join the nuclear arms race." In early March, foreign ministers attending the 102nd session of the GCC were briefed on talks held by the GCC secretary general and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), although no details on the outcome of these talks were reported.

Meanwhile, Jordan, which is not an oil producer, has announced plans to build its first nuclear power plant by 2015. According to energy minister Khaled Sharida, the country would like to use nuclear energy for electricity and seawater desalination and his staff are "working on a timetable for implementing the project." During a regional tour to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Jordan, IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei reiterated the Agency's readiness to "help Jordan to benefit from nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" and said that an IAEA team would be dispatched next week to look into Jordan's plans. The Jordanian parliament is expected to vote on a bill on the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes on 18 April.

Even Algeria, Africa's largest gas exporter, is looking into nuclear. Speaking on the eve of the 6th Gas Conference in Qatar, oil minister Chakib Khelil told reporters that that Algeria is planning to build nuclear power stations to meet rising demand for electricity and intends to pass a law later this year to allow the development of nuclear power plants. However, like most other countries in the region, it does not look likely that Algeria will start building a nuclear plant any time soon. "We expect to sign an agreement for a nuclear plant in the next 20 to 25 years," Khelil said.