Spectre of Chernobyl hangs over Middle East’s nuclear ambitions. The Middle East is going nuclear. The United Arab Emirates is home to the Barakah nuclear power station, the Arab world’s first such facility and the biggest nuclear power plant currently under construction. Saudi Arabia has plans for two large nuclear plants to cope with national energy demands, increasing by more than eight percent annually. Initial land-clearing work has also begun for a nuclear facility at Akkuyu, on Turkey’s southern coast, while Egypt is due to start building a nuclear power plant in El Dabaa, west of Alexandria, next year. Jordan has plans for a number of smaller nuclear facilities. In a recently published book on Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy – now a history professor at Harvard but in 1986 a Ukraine resident – said the idea of a nuclear accident was inconceivable. “As far as they [the engineers] were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode.” Chernobyl’s reactor exploded, throwing vast clouds of radiation up into the atmosphere that were blown by winds over Scandinavia, much of Europe and Ukraine itself. Plokhy’s book – billed as the most extensively researched work yet on the Chernobyl disaster – should be required reading for any government official contemplating a nuclear-driven future. He said that although safety features and procedures at nuclear facilities have been improved, we’re still just as far from taming nuclear reactions as we were in 1986. Lessons have not been learned. The nuclear power industry, which grew out of and alongside nuclear arms programmes, continues to be obsessed with secrecy, and has always been wary of disclosing any problems. In 1957, there was a serious accident at a Soviet nuclear power plant in the Urals. Both the Soviets and the US military – which was aware of the incident – decided not to disclose the event to the public in the West. “Both sides had a stake in keeping it under wraps so as not to frighten their citizens and make them reject nuclear power as a source of cheap energy,” Plokhy said.
Middle East Eye 22nd March 2019 read more »