Qatar called on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to intervene in a dispute over a $24 billion nuclear power plant which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is building.
In a letter to the IAEA, which was seen by Reuters, Qatar said the Barakah plant poses a serious threat to regional stability and the environment and calls for a framework to ensure the safe operation of nuclear energy in the Gulf.
Qatar said that a radioactive plume from an accidental discharge could reach its capital Doha in five to 13 hours and a radiation leak would have a devastating effect on the region's water supply because of its reliance on desalination plants. "Qatar believes that the lack of any international co-operation with neighboring states regarding disaster planning, health and safety and the protection of the environment pose a serious threat to the stability of the region and its environment," the letter from Qatar's Foreign Affairs ministry to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said. Qatar also said that the technology is relatively untested as there is only one other commercial reactor of this type in operation in South Korea.
The UAE's Nawah Energy Company said in May 2018 that Barakah, the world's largest nuclear plant under construction, should start operations between the end of 2019 and early 2020. Barakah is being built by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), but problems with training enough local staff have delayed the startup of its first reactor several times and in November Nawah signed a deal with French utility EDF to operate the plant.
Relations between Qatar and its neighbor are already strained after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Doha in June 2017 over allegations that it supports terrorism, a charge Qatar denies.
The IAEA, a Vienna-based organization which is the world's top nuclear safety authority, declined to comment on exchanges with its member states. Qatar said regional concerns about nuclear safety will be amplified when the Saudi Arabian civil nuclear program comes onstream. Amid Saudi Arabia's nuclear power aspirations to be self-sufficient in producing nuclear fuel with U.S. President Donald Trump's backing, ambiguity over the kingdom's true ambition of becoming a nuclear power in the region still remain. As Riyadh proceeds with its nuclear power push, it is more likely that it would become the second Gulf Arab state to launch a nuclear power project after UAE, an increasing source of tension in the Middle East following Trump's decision to pull out of the Iranian nuclear pact.