London, May 21 (UNI) At least thirteen countries throughout the greater West Asia began their plans to explore civilian nuclear energy within months of Iran's decision to start enriching uranium, according to a new report.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies stated in its report that in the 11 months that followed the onset of this procedure in Iran in 2006, 13 countries across West Asia drew up new plans or revived old ones for building nuclear power stations.
All the proposed nuclear programmes are civilian schemes designed to generate electricity. At present, there is no question of any international safeguards being breached.
The report, however, stated if Iran were to test a nuclear bomb, every country in West Asia would be forced to re-assess its defence policies.
''Iran's programme could become a powerful regional proliferation driver, building on regional rivalry, security concerns and one-upmanship,'' the Telegraph quoted IISS chief executive John Chipman as saying.
''For the time being, these considerations are contributing to a regional surge in interest in nuclear energy. The question is how to keep this interest confined to purely civilian nuclear programmes.'' This surge of interest is consistent with a worldwide trend likened to a ''nuclear renaissance'', the report stated, adding that political factors also motivated the renewed interest in nuclear energy in the West Asia, including competition with Iran and concern about its determined pursuit of technologies that appear designed to provide it with a nuclear weapons capability.
The report warned that Egypt, which already possessed a solid grounding in nuclear technology, could be the first to build a bomb.
Most Arab countries had begun their nuclear power ambitions ''from a very low base'', lacking essential technology and trained scientists. ''There was still time to put in place a robust regime of safeguards to prevent any civilian programme from being used as a cover to build a bomb,'' it added.
UNI XC SYU DS1253