Monday, September 25, 2006

Nations Raise Stakes in Arms Race by Revealing Nuclear Ambitions

Richard Beeston and Suna Erdem, The Times Online:
Egypt and Turkey are pressing ahead with plans to join the nuclear club, amid fears that Iran’s atomic programme could trigger a nuclear race across the Middle East.

After the failure of the United Nations to curb Iran’s nuclear development, including the enrichment of uranium, experts fear that other powers in the region may feel forced to build their own deterrent. READ MORE

President Mubarak of Egypt has told members of his ruling National Democratic Party that it is time the country invested in a nuclear programme.

We must increase our exploitation of new energy sources, including the peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” he said.

“I call for a serious debate [in Egypt] taking into consideration what nuclear technology can provide by way of clear, inexpensive energy sources.”

Egypt has had a modest nuclear project for decades and operates two research reactors, one outside Cairo and another near the Libyan border.

Egyptian officials insisted that the country only wanted to build a cheap, clean and safe energy source for the future needs of its growing population and had no intention of diverting the technology to build an atomic bomb.

But the timing of the announcement was seen by many as a sign that Egypt also wants the option of joining the growing club of nuclear-armed states.

One of the biggest dangers of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is that it would spur a nuclear arms race in the region,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “The three countries most often mentioned are Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.”

He said that a civilian nuclear programme was the obvious first step in the process of building an atomic bomb, a route taken by Pakistan before it developed its first warhead.

Turkey is advanced in its nuclear programme. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister, announced in June that the country would build three nuclear power plants by 2015.

The first is expected to be ready near the Black Sea coast town of Sinop by 2014.

As a country whose energy consumption is increasing rapidly, we want to benefit from nuclear energy as soon as possible,” he said.

Both Egypt and Turkey are signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows countries to build atomic power stations under international supervision to ensure that they are not assembling a nuclear bomb.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has no plans to build a nuclear power station and Riyadh has always denied that it is seeking to acquire an atomic bomb.