x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

GCC pushes for nuclear watchdog amid growing concerns over Bushehr

Growing concerns in GCC over safety at Iran’s nuclear plant prompt experts at security summit to call for a radiation watchdog.

ABU DHABI // The Arabian Gulf states urgently need a radiation monitoring centre amid growing fears over the safety of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, the GCC secretary general said yesterday.

"Any disaster will affect all of us," Dr Abullatif Al Zayani said at a security summit in the capital.

Tremors from a 6.3-magnitude earthquake last Tuesday in south-west Iran, 96 kilometres from Bushehr, were felt all around the Gulf, and buildings were evacuated in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Tehran and the reactor's Russian manufacturers both said the nuclear plant was undamaged. But emergency management officials from across the Gulf, who met in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, urged the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to "send a specialised technical team to inspect the Bushehr nuclear plant and investigate potential damage".

And yesterday Dr Al Zayani said: "We are concerned with the safety of the region. We want to set up a radiation monitoring centre that can inspect radiation levels and develop a preparedness level that can mitigate the effects of a nuclear disaster."

The GCC wants to develop the centre in cooperation with the UN watchdog because of growing safety concerns over the Bushehr plant.

"The plant poses a danger to the environmental security of the Gulf as a whole and it's our duty to be ready to deal with any unexpected occurrence," Dr Al Zayani said.

"We called and are still calling for Iran to apply international safety standards under the IAEA guidelines and sign the Convention on Nuclear Safety."

The UAE already plans radiation sensors that will monitor air quality to ensure only small, safe levels of radiation are emitted from the country's first nuclear power plant being built in the Western Region.

Dr Al Zayani said measuring the quality of air and water radiation was a must. "Other than earthquakes, many kinds of technical faults or accidents can take place, so we need to ensure that the water quality is not polluted," he said.

The GCC secretary general said the planned monitoring centre will not only be watching Bushehr. "It will collect data on every kind of radiation effect, whether it's from Iran or via material carried in our waterways or even from outside our region," he said.

"Any nuclear emergency will affect the region directly or indirectly and we want experts in the centre to have all the data they need and the know-how to provide an early warning to avert disaster.

"There are different levels of disaster mitigation: local, regional and international. We would like to prepare with all our partners regionally and internationally."

During his speech at the summit yesterday, Dr Al Zayani said the GCC was more integrated than it had ever been.

"The Gulf countries play an active role internationally and speak in one voice regarding issues regionally and internationally," he said.

He believes the main internal challenges now for Gulf countries are political developments, sectarian issues, youth employment, water and food security and the protection of energy resources.

In addition, Dr Al Zayani said that the negative position of some neighbouring countries as well as the Middle East peace process and the international strategy towards the region pose challenges.

Globally, he said the Gulf was facing challenges from climate change, organised crime, terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

Dr Al Zayani said security and prosperity in the Gulf would be achieved through five main strategic pillars: the protection of countries from all threats; the growth and sustainability of their economies; sustaining a high level of human development; improvement of safety standards and raising public awareness about threats and disasters; and through increasing the regional role of the GCC as a powerbroker.

The C4ISR Summit (Command, Control, Communication, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) continues today at the Abu Dhabi Armed Forces Officers Club.

amustafa@thenational.ae