Feeds

Weapons, oil prices driving worldwide atom ambitions

Join the Nuclear Club, get a nuclear club

A new approach to endpoint data protection

A crush of developing nations trying to gatecrash the nuclear power club has prompted fears of a subsequent race to develop nuclear weapons.

The UN nuke regulator, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), says that it has recently been approached by 40 countries, all expressing an interest in nuclear power. According to an article in today's Washington Post, at least six of these confirmed specifically that they would commence enrichment or reprocessing of nuclear fuel, causing raised eyebrows at the IAEA's Vienna headquarters.

Nuclear power programmes involving enrichment or reprocessing have the potential to be weapons efforts, as well as producing fuel for electricity generation. A country is much less likely to be suspected of immediate aspirations toward nuclear armament if it is willing to import manufactured fuel elements from overseas. The ability to enrich or reprocess, by contrast, offers the potential to produce weapons-grade material.

"We are concerned that some countries are moving down the nuclear [weapons] path in reaction to the Iranians," an unnamed US official told the Post.

It appears that oil and gas-rich Arab states in the Gulf region view the current, active Iranian enrichment programme with concern. The mostly Sunni Arab governments don't want to see their Persian Shi'ite rivals emerge as the sole nuclear power in the Gulf.

US intelligence recently assessed that the Iranian weapons programme - whose existence had always been denied - was shut down five years ago, but enrichment activities continue in the underground bunker complex at Natanz. It's also been suggested by the US and Israel that Iran's ally Syria was engaged on a secret weapons programme at its Al Kibar plant, lately destroyed in a mysterious Israeli bombing raid.

The Post reports that Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE are all moving forward with nuclear programmes, despite substantial reserves of fossil fuel. Bahrain and the UAE have said that they don't want enrichment or reprocessing facilities, but anti-nuclear campaigners are sceptical, noting that these could be added later.

Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, sees the current fad for reactors as a sort of preliminary arms race in advance of any arms, with Gulf nations taking up a position where they could move towards nuclear weapons if required without a decades-long runup.

"You don't really even need to have a nuclear weapon," he said at a recent conference. "It's enough to buy yourself an insurance policy by developing the capability."

Other nations, more widely scattered, may well be applying for IAEA assistance due to the present sky-high prices of fossil fuels. Under international treaty, a country willing to foreswear weapons development is entitled to technical help in starting a power programme. This can include enrichment activities, though in fact there is usually serious reluctance by many established nuclear states to help on this front.

It's even thought that oil countries might see nuclear electricity as a paying proposition, as oil burned to make electricity at home doesn't make them as much money as it would if sold at high prices to Western customers.

"Why would these Gulf states want to go nuclear? Because they know their oil will only become more valuable as global demand increases," said the IAEA's Alan McDonald.

"It may be more cost-effective to sell oil to Americans driving SUVs than to burn it domestically." ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?