Atoms for Peace in the Middle East: The Technical and Regulatory Requirements
James M. Acton and Wyn Q. Bowen
For a developing country contemplating the construction of its first nuclear power plant (NPP) the technical requirements alone can appear daunting. This is before the legal, regulatory, economic and political dimensions are brought into the mix. As the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) noted in a recent report, launching a nuclear power program "is a major undertaking requiring careful planning, preparation and investment in a sustainable infrastructure that provides legal, regulatory, technological, human and industrial support to ensure that the nuclear material is used exclusively for peaceful purposes and in a safe and secure manner."
Against this background, the paper seeks to examine the technical and regulatory feasibility of three proposed new nuclear power programs in the Middle East: in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Its aim is to explore the extent to which each of these countries currently has "what it takes", i.e. meets the technical and regulatory requirements, to build and operate an NPP. These three states have been chosen because, of all the states that have recently shown an interest in nuclear power, there has been the most speculation about their intentions. They also present useful case studies. First, Libya and the United Arab Emirates are somewhat similar to Saudi Arabia because they all have significant oil and gas reserves and strong sovereign credit ratings but are weak on the nuclear technology front. Second, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen are somewhat similar to Egypt because they are not so rich in oil and gas and have poor sovereign credit ratings. Moreover, both Egypt and Algeria have large research reactors and both will need financial help to pay for a large power reactor. Third, Turkey is arguably unique because it has a strong economy unrelated to oil and gas as well as a relatively solid nuclear technology base.
All three states have shown interest in nuclear energy at various times over thepast half century. As discussed below, Egypt and Turkey have made repeated attempts to acquire nuclear reactors but without success. This paper aims to shed some light on the question of whether it will be different this time and hence to contribute to the broader debate about the management of the "nuclear renaissance". In spite of the growing literature about the intentions of states seeking to develop nuclear power, remarkably little has been written on this question of capabilities. The answers that this paper provides should be regarded as preliminary. They are based on an analysis of available open-source literature and consequently there are a number of issues that we fully acknowledge are not addressed authoritatively. Issues requiring further study are flagged up in the text.
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1. We would to like to thank John Cooper for assistance with research and Juli Rick for help with preparing the manuscript.
2. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Considerations to Launch a Nuclear Power
Programme, Vienna, 2007, GOV/INF/2007/2/Colour, pp.1-3, http://www.iaea.org/NuclearPower/Downloads/Launch_NPP/07-11471_Launch_NPP.pdf.
3. To our knowledge, the only recent study that addresses the capabilities question in details is International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran, London, IISS, 2008.