Regional atomic plans hit hurdle

19 July 2012

Without strong state backing, dreams of nuclear power will be unfulfilled for most of the region. Only Saudi Arabia and the UAE have political and financial strength for atomic programmes

The UAE is racing ahead with plans to develop nuclear power reactors, and Saudi Arabia is working hard to push ahead with its bigger and more complex nuclear ambitions.

They benefit from political stability and huge financial reserves, both essential to successfully implement an atomic power programme. The rest of the region is not so lucky.

For a nuclear scheme to work, it needs the engagement of a government powerful enough to get the international support it needs, and with the longevity to continue pushing it forward for many years. It also needs huge financial resources behind it.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan have all considered investing in nuclear energy to boost power production. It is unlikely any of them will fulfil those ambitions.

Qatar is too small to house a nuclear reactor, the others fail in terms of political stability and financial resources. Kuwait has the cash, but has been through eight governments in the past six years. It cannot even get consensus on building a gas-fired power station, let alone a costly nuclear project that would be fraught with execution risks. Bahrain continues to face destabilising protests by its majority Shia population and its budget is already in deficit.

Jordan’s nuclear plans have been scuppered by a vote in parliament. A study by a parliamentary group labelled the plans “hazardous and costly”. The project has been suspended in the final stages of the tender process with two groups shortlisted for the contract.

Elections in Egypt have not brought political stability. Nor is there any immediate hope of transforming the state’s perilous-looking finances. Egypt’s new politicians will need to decide their position on nuclear, but their statements on power capacity building suggest they are ill-equipped to make such decisions.

The attraction of nuclear for Middle East states that spend much of their budgets subsidising domestic power production is clear. The practicalities of it are far more complex.

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