Russia's Nuclear Ambitions in the Middle East

Getting Power by Providing Power

A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor, 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran, August 21, 2010. Raheb Homavandi / Reuters

A few years ago, the Middle East’s nuclear energy prospects were in decline. Political instability made long-term investments in civil nuclear infrastructure risky. For one, Egypt was in the last stages of considering reactor bids when the popular uprising began in 2011. These plans were soon shelved by subsequent transitional governments. And the 2011 Fukushima Daichii meltdown in Japan had shaken public confidence across the world in the safety of nuclear power and raised questions about the industry's future. But now, at least in the Middle East, it appears that nuclear power is back in style. In April, Russian state nuclear firm Rosatom announced that it had opened an office in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. The office will help oversee the company’s many nuclear power projects in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, and Turkey. It is also hoped that Russian regional presence would open up new opportunities for its nuclear industry in the region. 

Rosatom’s new office comes at just the right time. The Middle East is now home to the greatest number of “nuclear newcomers” in the world, with at least six countries in total actively pursuing nuclear power. For one, in 2011, Iran became the first country in the region to operate a nuclear reactor. Tehran’s long-term plans include an ambitious expansion of its nuclear energy capacity by eight additional power reactors, something generally condoned by the recent nuclear deal.

For their parts, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began to pursue nuclear power in 2010 and 2009, respectively. Both countries are driven by efforts to diversify their energy mix, and also use nuclear energy as a status symbol in the context of their strategic competition with Iran.

Saudi Arabia has perhaps the most ambitious nuclear plans, with a goal of building 16 reactors by 2032. The United Arab Emirates’ first reactor is under construction, with an expected completion date in 2017. Egypt has also revived its plans to build a series of nuclear power reactors in Dabaa on the coast of the

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