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21 February 2024

GCC forms 'rapid deployment' nuclear team

By Nadim Kawach

Gulf oil producers have created a rapid deployment team to face repercussions of a possible accident at Iran’s Busehr nuclear plant which is located just across the Gulf water, a Saudi newspaper said on Sunday.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, sitting atop over 40 per cent of the world’s proven oil deposits, have also set up specialized joint committees to study the effects of any radiation from the plant following its official inauguration in September last year, Aleqtisadia Arabic language daily said, quoting Tariq Al Obaid, secretary general of the Geneva-based Euro-Arab Environment Organization (EAEO).

The paper, cited an official GCC report, also said the UAE and nearby states could be the first victims of any nuclear radiation from the Iranian plant in case winds are moving from the east to the west.

Obaid told the Riyadh-based paper that the committees had started working on studies to evaluate the environmental effects of Bushehr given the plant’s proximity to regional countries and its location along the coast.

He said both the committees and the rapid deployment team had been established by the Riyadh-based GCC secretariat as part of an ongoing campaign by the 31-year-old Gulf alliance to protect its citizens and marine environment, which is already severely hit by oil pollution.

“The GCC secretariat has set up a rapid deployment team to face possible emergency resulting from any environmental disaster in the region as a result of an accident at that nuclear plant,” he said.

“The GCC secretariat is also planning to launch a special environment crisis management centre…in this respect, the EAEO has signed an agreement with the GCC health ministers to jointly study diseases that could spread in the region as a result of any environment accident.”

Aleqtisadia Quoted a new report by the GCC secretariat as saying Bushehr nuclear plant which is currently used by Iran to produce electricity threatens GCC countries, mainly Kuwait, because it lacks “safety standards and transparency” and the fact that the plant is situated on an active seismic line.

“Any major or medium earthquake could cut cooling water off the plant and this could lead to a real catastrophe…it could also result in major marine and air pollution, especially near Kuwait, the closest GCC country to that plant.”

The report said Bushehr is only around 236 km from Ras Al Zour in Kuwait, adding that any nuclear leak would have major repercussions on the region due to the nature of its water which is almost landlocked.

“Given that nature, the Gulf water undergoes replacement only once every five years and the currents move anti-clockwise…this means that any pollution caused by Bushehr plant to the water will have major effects on Kuwait, mainly its water desalination facilities.”

The report said that in case of an accident at Bushehr, a massive nuclear cloud will hit GCC countries and Yemen, depending on the wind movement.

“In case the wind is moving from the north to the south, then Kuwait and North Saudi Arabia will be hit…in case the wind is moving from the east to the west, then the UAE, Oman and Yemen will be the first victims.”

The report quoted experts as saying nuclear radiation from Bushehr could reach Kuwait within 15 hours at a wind speed of five metres per second.

“Although Bushehr nuclear plant is located on Iranian territory, it is estimated at around10 per cent of that country’s population could be affected by radiation while 40-100 per cent of the GCC people will suffer.”

Construction of Bushehr was started in 1975 by German companies, but the work was stopped in 1979 after the Islamic revolution of Iran. A contract for finishing the plant was signed between Iran and the Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy in 1995, with Russia's Atomstroyexport named as the main contractor.

The work was delayed several years by technical and financial challenges as well as by political pressure from the West.

After construction was again in danger of being stopped in 2007, a renewed agreement was reached in which the Iranians promised to compensate for rising costs and inflation after completion of the plant.

Delivery of nuclear fuel started the same year. The plant started adding electricity to the national grid on 3 September 2011, and was officially opened in a ceremony on 12 September, attended by Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko and head of the Rosatom Sergei Kiriyenko.

The project is considered unique in terms of its technology, the political environment and the challenging physical climate. It is considered the first civilian nuclear power plant built in the Middle East and the third nuclear installation after Israel's Soreq Nuclear Research Center near Soreq and Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona – both built in 1958.

There have been widespread safety concerns about the Bushehr, associated with construction of the plant itself, ageing equipment and understaffing.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran “does not follow some important safety protocols” and there have been concerns about a Chernobyl-like nuclear accident, which could spread radiation throughout the region.