Almost none have seen or witnessed the haunting and traumatic days of the last world war, but each one of us is fully conscious of what a world war means. And as if this is not enough, there could be a possibility of a nuclear world war.This is possible because at least 40 developing countries from the Persian Gulf region to Latin America have recently approached United Nations (U.N.) officials to signal interest in starting nuclear power programs, a trend that has concerned nuclear experts who believe that this could provide the building blocks of nuclear arsenals in some of those nations.
At least half a dozen countries have also said in the past four years that they are specifically planning to conduct enrichment or reprocessing of nuclear fuel, a prospect that could dramatically expand the global supply of plutonium and enriched uranium. Much of the new interest is driven by economic considerations, particularly the soaring cost of fossil fuels. However, for some Middle Eastern states with ready access to huge stocks of oil or natural gas, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the investment in nuclear power appears to be linked partly to concerns about a future regional arms race stroked in part by Iran’s alleged interest in such an arsenal.
Although the United Arab Emirates has a proven oil reserve of 100 billion barrels, the world’s sixth-largest, in January it signed a deal with a French company to build two nuclear reactors. Wealthy neighbors Kuwait and Bahrain are also planning nuclear plants, as are Libya, Algeria and Morocco in North Africa and the kingdom of Jordan. Even Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, last year announced plans to purchase a nuclear reactor, which, it says, is needed to produce electricity, It is one of 11 Middle Eastern states now engaged in beginning or expansion of nuclear power programs.
Meanwhile, two of Iran’s biggest rivals in the region, Turkey and Egypt, are moving forward with ambitious nuclear projects. Both countries abandoned any pursuit of nuclear power decades ago, but are now on course to develop seven nuclear power plants, four in Egypt and three in Turkey, over the next decade.
Egypt’s ambassador to the United States told a recent gathering of Middle Eastern experts that his country’s decision was unrelated to Iran’s nuclear activities. But, he acknowledged that commercial nuclear power does give technology and knowledge and he warned that a nuclear arms race may be inevitable unless the region’s leaders agree to ban such weapons. Many countries involved in nuclear expansion have stressed their peaceful intentions. Some, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, publicly vowed never to pursue uranium enrichment or fuel reprocessing – technologies that can be used to create fissile materials for nuclear weapons. But some arms-control experts say the sudden interest cannot be fully explained by rising oil prices.
The problem with the region is that they can continue to take the high road, but there is not much oxygen there, and it is very lonely. Without a comprehensive nuclear accord, they will have a production problem in the Middle East, and it will be even worse in 10 years than it is today. Most people believe that this is not primarily about nuclear energy but is a hedge against Iran. They are just starting their engines because it takes decades to build a nuclear infrastructure, and they are beginning to do it now. And this race for nuclear energy and weapons in the most wealthy and energy rich region of the world can be fatal for both the east and west.
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