Nuclear energy in Yemen:A conceivable dream? [Archives:2007/1017/Reportage]

January 18 2007

By: Shaima Mahmoud
For Yemen Times

According to an economic magazine concerned with Middle Eastern affairs, at least six Arab nations are working on developing domestic nuclear energy programs to vary energy sources within their territory.

Middle East Economic Digest noted that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria are interested in developing nuclear energy stations for water distillation purposes.

“The International Atomic Energy Agency held preliminary discussions with the governments of the abovementioned countries and pledged to offer them help as part of a technical consultative program to conduct a study on energy stations,” the magazine reported.

It added that Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates also demonstrated their will and interest in producing nuclear energy, but such plans remain in their infancy.

During his two-month election campaign, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared that Yemen would generate electricity using nuclear energy. Following his victory at the polls, Saleh confirmed that Yemen is serious about implementing the project, which raises the question: Can Yemen conduct such a project amid its failure to tackle numerous minor issues like unemployment, rampant corruption and slow development?

Yemen's declaration that it'll use nuclear energy to generate electricity coincided with Egypt's announcement to carry out a similar project in search of a more economical source of energy. Middle East Economic Digest indicated that Egypt's nuclear program is the best in the Arab world and that Russia expects to participate in a tender to establish nuclear energy stations in Egypt. Algeria's plans are second in terms of development, according to the magazine.

Yemen Times surveyed citizens about whether they're convinced that Yemen is capable enough to conduct this project, as well as whether Yemen is serious about seeking alternatives to existing power sources.

Several politicians refused to comment on this subject, thus impeding efforts to enrich the topic with more information and determine whether there are serious steps to implement such a project.

“President Ali Abdullah Saleh is known to be fond of such talk,” one police officer mocked, “He makes a new promise at every occasion because he knows well how to attract people to his side, irrespective of whether or not he'll fulfil his promises. I think Mr. President has forgotten that the project is merely part of his electoral campaign.”

“What is nuclear energy? I don't understand it,” university student Jamila Yahya asked. It seems many citizens don't know what nuclear energy is, nor do they know that such energy can generate electricity; consequently, they're unconcerned about what's being said.

However, dentist Jamila Al-Qadhi stated, “Such a project would be possible to implement if Yemen had rulers like those in the U.A.E., Kuwait or Qatar, who are able to make change.”

Administrative officer Hussein Al-Wajih holds a differing viewpoint, affirming that Yemen has changed a lot, compared to 10 years ago. All Yemeni people and its visitors have the same remarks and many Yemenis have no self-confidence that they can change their country for a better future like other Gulf states.

The Transparency International Index placed Yemen amid the world's three most corrupt nations: Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. “How can an energy generating project be conducted in a country suffering rampant corruption? Public spending isn't controlled and there's a real deficit in the state's general budget, coupled with Yemen's external debts,” Abdulwahab Ali noted, “Where are the national projects that received much of the state's general budget?”

However, Nabil Al-Jedairi, a simple laborer who easily believes any official declarations, maintained, “I'm sure Mr. President wouldn't say anything unless he knows this thing is possible to do,” thus implying that it's possible for Yemen to generate power using nuclear energy.

“I expect Yemen to be totally different after 10 years of development and fighting unemployment,” university student Nisreen opined.

Generating energy remains a dream in both the developed and developing world, as well as amid globally skyrocketing energy prices.

Nuclear energy supplies world nations with 16 percent of their power, meeting 35 percent of public demand for electricity in European Union countries. In France, 77 percent of power comes from nuclear reactors, whereas in Japan, nuclear energy meets 30 percent of public demand for power.

In other countries like Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia, Switzerland, Sweden, Ukraine and South Korea, nuclear energy meets one-third of public demand for electricity. Because Australia's power depends on coal, it doesn't have nuclear stations to generate electricity; rather, it only has stations to conduct nuclear energy research.

A similar case can be seen in some Arab nations like Egypt and Algeria, which have nuclear stations for energy research, whereas Saudi Arabia and Morocco are interested in establishing nuclear stations for water distillation.