Enrich yourself

My mother often said: “Blessed is the child that has its own”. The message was the importance of independence and the need to take charge of your own destiny. As we move into 2006, I think more of us will begin to see the wisdom of this philosophy.

Just four days into the new year, there was a Financial Times (FT) story stating European energy prices had risen following the dispute between Russia and the Ukraine over gas pricing. While this may be a short-term reaction, some believe long-term prices could hit an all-time high as the market still sees over-reliance on Russian gas as a potential problem. The International Energy Agency forecasts that Europe’s dependency on gas imports will rise to more than 80 per cent by 2030.

In its ‘Notebook’ column, the FT put a light-hearted spin on the story with an imaginary conversation between Russia and UK leaders, Vladimir Putin and Tony Blair as they unlocked a huge gas valve to allow gas to flow from Russia. After opening the valve, Blair says: “ࢀ¦You’ve reminded the UK how dependent it will be on gas imports once North Sea gas runs out. I should have no problems now promoting new nuclear power stations as clean, efficient and necessary.” Putin (chuckling) responds: “Just don’t mention Chernobyl! There is another option thoughࢀ¦ If you Brits wrap up like us Russians, you wouldn’t need new nuclear power stations.” Blair has the final word saying: “ࢀ¦Take the UK to war with Iraq? No problem. Persuade British couch potatoes to don jumpers (pull-overs) instead of turning up the gas? Forget it. Even I can’t do that.” Which brings us to a much trickier challenge.

Perhaps Blair – together with his counterparts from Germany, France and the US – feels more confident about persuading Iran not to pursue the nuclear option. In the latest development in this ongoing saga, Iran said it would resume nuclear fuel research within days. This decision is sure to prompt the US to push for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council where it could face economic sanctions for supposedly violating a nuclear arms control treaty.

The main bone of contention is Iran’s uranium enrichment activities. Iran claims it only wants to produce low-grade enriched uranium for use in nuclear reactors and not, as the US and others in the west suspect, highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. In 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered Iran had conducted some nuclear research, including enrichment tests back in the late 1980s. Following the discovery, Iran voluntarily suspended nuclear fuel research as well as uranium processing and enrichment as part of negotiations with France, Germany and the UK. In December that year in a further show of cooperation, it signed an Additional Protocol issued under the Nuclear non-Proliferation (NPT) Safeguards Agreement.

The IAEA is continuing to analyse the source(s) of low-grade enriched uranium particles, and some highly enriched uranium particles, which were found in Iran with a view to assessing the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations.

Understandably, Iran is feeling somewhat victimised and at the same time is becoming impatient. It has a huge need for power and ambitious plans. Its goal is to add 30 GW of new capacity over the next ten years to bring installed capacity to 70 GW. The long term plan is to reach an installed base of 96 GW by 2020. Iran wants to produce 2000 MW of electricity by building nuclear power plants – with foreign help – in southern Iran.

In a move to allay US suspicions, Iran has even opened the door to the US for building a 360 MW light water reactor in southwestern Iran. “America can take part in international bidding for the construction of Iran’s nuclear power plant if they observe the basic standards of quality,” said foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.

Perhaps Iran is just testing political boundaries and has no intention of risking further economic sanctions. Alternatively, it may have an overwhelming desire to be completely self-sufficient in securing its energy future – even if it means risking an international backlash. Following the Russia-Ukraine dispute, Anders Piebalgs, European Energy Commissioner, vowed to make energy security his priority. “Europe needs a clear and more collective and cohesive policy on security of energy supply,” he stressed.

So, is the priority of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad any different to that of Mr Piebalgs? Maybe. Maybe not. Certainly, on the face of it Iran has broken no laws. The US may want to take the pre-crime approach of the Hollywood movie ‘Minority Report’, arguing that prevention is better than cure. But our laws also say innocent until proven guilty and as a signatory of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty Iran has as much right as any other member to enrich uranium (for peaceful purposes) and consequently enrich the lives of its people.

Junior Isles
Publisher & Editorial Director

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