Washington, May 12 : More than 40 developing countries from the Persian Gulf region to Latin America have recently approached United Nations officials to express interest in starting nuclear power programmes, a trend which might lead to the intensification of the arms race.
According to a report in Washington Post, this trend is particularly of interest to proliferation experts, who say it could provide the building blocks for nuclear arsenals in some of the countries that have approached the UN.
Much of the interest in nuclear power was driven by economic considerations including the high cost of fossil fuels, the report said.
However, for some Middle Eastern states with ready access to huge stocks of oil or natural gas, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the investment in nuclear power appears to be linked partly to concerns about a future regional arms race, it added.
"We are concerned that some countries are moving down the nuclear (weapons) path in reaction to the Iranians," said a senior US government official who tracks the spread of nuclear technology said in an interview.
At least half a dozen countries have also said in the past four years that they are specifically planning to conduct enrichment or reprocessing of nuclear fuel, a prospect that could dramatically expand the global supply of plutonium and enriched uranium, according to US and international nuclear officials and arms-control experts.
Even Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, last year announced plans to purchase a nuclear reactor, which it says is needed to produce electricity.
It is one of 11 Middle Eastern states now engaged in starting or expanding nuclear power programs.
Meanwhile, Turkey and Egypt are also moving forward with ambitious nuclear projects.
Though both countries abandoned any pursuit of nuclear power decades ago, they are now on course to develop seven nuclear power plants - four in Egypt and three in Turkey - over the next decade.
According to Joseph Cirincione, an expert on nuclear policy, the 40 nations that have approached the UN with their nuclear plans, have started on the pathway to a nuclear arms race.
"They're starting their engines. It takes decades to build a nuclear infrastructure, and they're beginning to do it now," he said.