Saudi Arabia announced Saturday that it will develop a new center for nuclear and alternative energy technologies in Riyadh. According to the Saudi government, the King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energies will undertake research and develop projects toward the goal of diversifying the kingdom’s power generation away from oil and natural gas, as well as desalinating water.
With this, all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman – have shown interest in nuclear power. Indeed, the Kingdom’s announcement comes just one day after France and Kuwait agreed to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and four months after the United Arab Emirates signed a $40 billion deal with a South Korean-led consortium to build and help run four nuclear power reactors.
All countries assert that their interest in nuclear power is for civilian purposes only. Nevertheless, it seems that the closer Iran comes to creating a nuclear weapon, the more Middle Eastern countries desire nuclear capabilities of their own. According to the 2009 Senate testimony of former State Department official Mark Fitzpatrick, “Since 2006, 15 countries in the Middle East have announced new or revived plans to explore civilian nuclear energy.” He continues, they “see nuclear energy as a status symbol, and a way to keep technological pace with Iran.” Undoubtedly a nuclear-armed Tehran would transform the region’s landscape, and can potentially spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.