Egypt’s Bold N-Step

Click here: Arab News – Egypt’s Bold N-Step

Last week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced the relaunch of his country’s nuclear energy program, on hold since the 1986 Soviet Chernobyl disaster.“Egypt will go through with the nuclear energy project in the belief that energy security is a basic element in building the future of the homeland and part and parcel of Egypt’s national security system,” he said while pledging it would be transparent, peaceful and developed in coordination with the UN nuclear watchdog the IAEA.

According to Egypt’s minister for electricity, the first will be built near the coast east of the Mediterranean resort town Alexandria and besides having a 1,000-megawatt capacity will be a vital source of desalinated water. It is predicted to be up and running by 2018.

It should be mentioned that Egypt has possessed a Soviet-supplied 2-megawatt nuclear research reactor fuelled by enriched uranium since 1961 — The Inshas Nuclear Research Center, north of Cairo. Reports suggest that Inshas might have been upgraded to 22-megawatts over the past decade with the assistance of Argentina. It is also believed that Egypt has an indigenous source of uranium in its eastern desert, although according to the IAEA, Egypt has thus far not attempted an enrichment process.

Like Iran, Egypt is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty under the terms of which it has the right to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and elicit assistance from nuclear powers. However, here the similarity ends. While Iran is under international siege for its nuclear ambitions, Egypt’s have been blessed by the US, France and the EU. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington would not object to Egypt’s program provided it respects the rules of the NPT and the IAEA.

Due to the outrageous double standards openly displayed by Israel and Washington over this issue and the obsequious falling in line of their European allies, the dream of a nuclear-free Middle East has receded into the twilight zone. Rebuffed in its efforts to get international backing for a nuclear-free region and concerned at the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, Egypt is sounding a clarion call for an “Arab nuclear family”.

“It is a right for all Arabs”, said an emotionally-charged Mubarak at an Arab League summit in Riyadh. Jordan, Libya, Yemen and Algeria have already announced their intentions to seek a peaceful nuclear capability while GCC leaders are set to discuss the issue later this year. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia has proposed a way to defuse the crisis over Iran, which would also eliminate suspicions that other regional countries are covertly seeking a nuclear weapons program under cover of nuclear energy plants, and ultimately stave off an arms race.

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