Egypt's nuclear program has taken a roller coaster-like course. It began peacefully in the late 1950s, with American and Russian support for a small research reactor; turned aggressive shortly thereafter, with (failed) attempts to purchase weapons for use against Israel; was frozen after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986; was revived a few years later with help from Argentina, which built a 22-megawatt research reactor at Inshas; and is now being revolutionized with the launch of plans for three reactors of up to 3,000 MW total capacity at Al-Daba. The first plant, Egypt's energy minister claims, will be ready in a decade.
Only a few weeks ago, Jordan and the United States signed an accord supporting the Hashemite kingdom's development of nuclear power. Under the agreement, "the two countries will work together to develop requirements for appropriate power reactors, fuel service arrangements, civilian training, nuclear safety, energy technology and other related areas," the US Embassy in Amman said in a statement.
In addition to desalinating water, nuclear power would bring a much-needed energy boost to Jordan, which imports all its oil and almost 80 percent of its natural gas. Conversely, the country has an estimated 80,000 tons of uranium available to be mined, and Jordanian officials aim to see nuclear energy produce 30 percent of the country's energy by 2030 and convert the kingdom into an energy exporter.
A year ago, President Bashar Assad asserted that his country had no intention of becoming a nuclear power. But in recent months, Syrian officials have sung a different tune, saying that the nuclear option could not be rejected, or even that it was "in our sights." The country's energy needs are increasing, while the industrial infrastructure is growing less and less efficient all the time.
Over the past few years, Israeli sources have expressed concern that Syria had been trying to obtain nuclear weapons from the rogue Pakistani nuclear regime. Last month, in a still-murky incident over eastern Syria, Israeli warplanes were alleged to have targeted what may have been a nuclear facility developed with the help of fellow "Axis of Evil" member North Korea.
Saudi officials have been laying the groundwork for a nuclear program over the past year, making public statements about the right of all states to peaceful nuclear power and holding meetings with neighbors on the importance of investing in nuclear power.
Some analysts claim that the Saudis have tried to purchase nuclear weapons from China. Publicly, however, Saudi Arabia is lobbying for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.
The five other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (in addition to Saudi Arabia) - have closely followed the Saudis' lead on nuclear energy, investing billions of dollars to pave the way for power plants and pledging entirely peaceful motives. The small Persian Gulf states are said to be extremely concerned by Iran's nuclear program, which is considered at least as much a factor in their interest in atomic energy as the development that such electricity would allow.
Ironically, Iran has offered the GCC its help in developing nuclear technology.
A little over a week ago, Yemen signed a deal with an American energy company to build a number of nuclear power plants over the next 10 years, designed to produce 5,000 megawatts of electricity. The country's oil production has dropped from 480,000 barrels a day a few years ago to a current level of 330,000 barrels a day.
Algeria is eager to make use of its uranium deposits, which are estimated to be the 10th largest in the world, to create a nuclear industry that can provide domestic power as well as generate lucrative exports.
In January, Algeria signed a cooperation agreement with Russia to build a reactor and train personnel to run it. France has also offered to cooperate on a nuclear project with Algeria, which is trying to promote the idea of a "Mediterranean Union" between southern Europe and North Africa.
France agreed last December to help Tunisia develop nuclear power and desalination capabilities, although such a program still appears far off for the resource-poor country. - S.S.