Peaceful uses of atomic energy [Archives:2006/923/Opinion]

February 23 2006

By: Mohammed bin Sallam
It is a glaring fact that the French and Germans, and later the Americans, were the ones who built nuclear reactors in Iran during the 1970s under the reign of the Shah. It was they who encouraged Iran at the time to use nuclear energy for peaceful applications.

Today, we hear about a European-American campaign to shut down these reactors. So what's the problem? Is it that Iran has depended totally on nationals to operate them? Or is it because Western policy prohibits developing nations, particularly in the Muslim world, from using nuclear energy except for peaceful purposes, keeping it constantly at the West's mercy in terms of peaceful uses for atomic technology and other development-fostering sciences?

Superpowers' policies and aims in the region aside, let us consider some peaceful atomic energy uses as follows:

The word “atomic” typically is associated with the atom bomb manufactured more than 50 years ago. However, since then, technology has evolved in the direction of peacefully harnessing this energy. Eight countries are believed possess nuclear weapons: the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France, Israel and, more recently, India and Pakistan.

The number of nations pledging to give up building or obtaining nuclear weapons in return for access to peaceful nuclear technology has reached 184. Such pledge is part of a permanent pact called, “The Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” To verify adherence to this commitment, more than 300 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts conduct daily field inspections in a myriad of corners around the world. Their main concern is to ensure that nuclear materials deposited at more than 1,000 nuclear installations in some 74 countries are not shifted from peaceful application programs to what may be clandestine weapons building programs.

Since its establishment in 1957, the IAEA has been associated in the minds of many people with the role of “watchdog” solely concerned with verifying whether third world countries, especially those in the Muslim world, possesses nuclear weapons or not.

The IAEA is active in three main domains: nuclear energy, nuclear safety and security and inspecting nuclear weapons in the third world, excluding Israel.

There are peaceful atomic energy uses galore, but let's review the most significant, which are sought by many third world countries including Iran. In addition to cost-effective power generation, atomic energy is utilized in a variety of peaceful applications aimed at serving communities and sustainable development. It is used in research and development in various fields such as agriculture, industry, health, environment, etc.

For example, nuclear energy is used to reclaim deserts and salty soil so it becomes arable and so plant development can survive desert conditions. It also is used to improve livestock quality. Gamma rays are used to induce mutations that result in better food security. There are countless uses, including: identifying and assessing underground water sources; sterilizing medical equipment and surgical instruments; producing special material used to bandage burns and wounds; diagnosing tumors early, etc. Radioactive analysis techniques often are used to monitor dangerous toxic environmental pollutants, preserve foodstuffs, etc.

The above are some atomic energy uses. We Yemenis aspire to them, like other third world peoples, all of whom are hankering to be liberated scientifically, economically and technologically from control and dominance of the superpowers.

According to Dr. Ali Ahmed Hammad, Egyptian specialist in the science of nuclear power: “Peaceful atomic energy uses characterize the post-World War II era. No doubt, whenever we hear the phrase “atomic radiation,” we are haunted by fear and consternation, as it is associated in laymen's minds with misconceptions about the danger of nuclear radiation, which in turn is associated in their minds with devastation and destruction brought about by the two atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. onto the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in addition to what media outlets circulate every now and then about the risks of some nuclear countries' nuclear arsenals and the concept of nuclear explosions and radiation resulting therefrom.”

Nevertheless, the question still poses itself: Is the U.S. and Western countries' stance on Iran's peaceful nuclear energy use based upon their fear of a nuclear-armed Iran or is the whole fuss attributable to their insistence on continuing to monopolize development-fostering energy and science and control third world resources in general?

Mohammed bin Sallam is a Yemeni journalist, he is the head of news department of Yemen Times.