Iran has for many years aspired to lead in nuclear technology. With the completion of its first nuclear power plant, the country has edged closer to that goal.
The 1,000MW Bushehr plant was launched on 21 August and uranium deliveries started on the following day.
As the first nuclear power project to be constructed in the Middle East, the completion of the Bushehr facility is significant.
Iran started out on its nuclear journey in the mid-1970s. Plans for a 2,600MW dual-unit facility were put in place for the Bushehr site, before being suspended in 1979.
Iran re-started work on the project in 1991 through a bilateral agreement with Russia. Responsibility was placed with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and international organisations were sidelined as a result.
While Iran’s plans for a nuclear power plant have come to fruition after nearly 40 years, other states in the Middle East have only recently looked at the potential for nuclear energy.
Abu Dhabi awarded a contract to a team led by South Korea’s Kepco in December 2009. Other countries in the region have since followed suit.
Jordan recently awarded a contract for a nuclear research facility, which will be followed by a full-scale project. Similar programmes have been unveiled in Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait and Yemen.
While some countries – such as Jordan – are keen to adopt nuclear power as they do not have hydrocarbon reserves of their own, others have more than enough oil and gas to satisfy domestic demand.
According to research by British oil major BP, Iran has around 16 per cent of the world’s proven gas reserves. With such hydrocarbon assets at its disposal, it is perhaps surprising that Iran has taken this route.
But oil-rich states may be inspired to diversify their energy profiles as the more hydrocarbon reserves that are conserved; the more they will be able to sell at international prices.
Iran has secured a first-mover dominance in the sector, which it intends to build on. It aims to bring 20,000MW of nuclear power capacity online by 2025, or 10 per cent of its total energy needs.
Iran’s achievements will be watched closely by neighbouring countries. But they will be most keen to see how Abu Dhabi manages to deliver its first nuclear facility while striving to meet the requirements of international nuclear regulators.