More than 40 developing countries have recently approached United Nations officials to express interest in starting nuclear power programs, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
The interest among developing countries ranging from the Gulf to Latin America is a concern to proliferation experts, who say it could provide the building blocks for nuclear arsenals in some of the countries, the Post said.
The newspaper said much of the interest in nuclear power is driven by economic considerations including the high cost of fossil fuels.
However, some Middle Eastern countries with access to large stocks of oil or natural gas, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, appear to be investing in nuclear power partly because of concerns about a future regional arms race, the Post said.
"We are concerned that some countries are moving down the nuclear (weapons) path in reaction to the Iranians," a senior US government official who tracks the spread of nuclear technology told the Post. The paper said he declined to speak on the record because of diplomatic sensitivities.
"The big question is: At what point do you reach the nuclear tipping point, when enough countries go nuclear that others decide they must do so, too?"
At least half a dozen countries also have said in the past four years that they are specifically planning to conduct enrichment or reprocessing of nuclear fuel, something that could expand the global supply of plutonium and enriched uranium, the Post said.