The $24 billion Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, will likely commence operations by 2020. It would be the Arab world’s first nuclear plant, but the idea of a plant, even if for energy reasons, in a volatile region is laden with dangerous possibilities.
A civilian nuclear program is a convenient way to go for nuclear weapons as the same technologies and materials are required to develop both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
Hasn’t Iran Already Done It?
Iran has repeatedly claimed that its nuclear program is designed to produce power and not weapons, but there are reports that indicate otherwise. Iran has for long prevented IAEA inspectors from visiting sites that have been deemed suspicious. The fact that they have been secretive about their nuclear facilities further strengthens the global opinion that Iran could now be barely months away from developing a nuclear bomb. It’s a scary thought for UAE.
A.Q. Khan, ‘father’ of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, has admitted that they covertly provided Iran and other countries with uranium-enrichment equipment and other technologies.
But why should an oil-rich country like the UAE pursue a civilian nuclear power program, especially at a time when the future of nuclear-power around the world is uncertain? Does it have nuclear weapons ambitions?
There is no evidence to suggest. But if so, Pakistan can help. It is economically dependent on the United Arab Emirates and is in its debt. The stricken country might not have the capacity to pay back in cash, but it certainly can return the favor with nuclear expertise that UAE might pursue someday.
Flirting with Danger
The dynamics in the region could change forever, leading to proliferation and creating arms race. The fact that UAE did not consult with any country in the region is another matter of concern. If any accident takes place, the entire region faces the consequences. It did not share any disaster planning, health and safety and the protection of the environment with any other country.
The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident should have served as a reminder. Radioactive fumes from an accidental discharge will have catastrophic repercussions for the Gulf region. It could also affect the region’s water supply.
Although UAE has claimed that it’s nuclear energy program conforms to IAEA standards and international best practices, it has been alleged that the technology is relatively untested as there is only one other commercial reactor of this type in operation, in South Korea.
US Objection Won’t Matter
Being good friends with Donald Trump will help, but UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is not worried anyway. If he intends to take the next step towards acquiring weapons and faces US objections, he most likely won’t listen.
The US clout in the region has been diminishing. In the past, making autonomous decisions in the matters of national security had its limitation, with most decisions made in consultation with the US. Its military dependence on Washington forced them to make compromises.
But the US is no longer the only weapons peddler in town. Russia and China have both made heavy inroads in to the region and are considered UAE’s next partners in arms.
With Saudi Arabia also pursuing its own nuclear vision, and the lack of leadership that looks after everyone’s interest in the region, the Middle East could be headed towards a state of complete mayhem.