Experts fear the countries will develop a bomb
Six Arab states have announced they are embarking on programmes to master atomic technology, sparking fears of a nuclear race.
The Times said the move, which followed the West's failure to curb Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, could see the rapid spread of nuclear reactors in one of the world’s most unstable regions.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) named the countries involved as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Tunisia and the UAE had also shown interest.
The group wanted to build civilian nuclear energy programmes, as they were permitted to under international law. However, there were fears a bomb would eventually be made.
"Some Middle East states, including Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia, have shown initial interest [in using] nuclear power primarily for desalination purposes," Tomihiro Taniguch, the deputy director-general of the IAEA, told the business weekly Middle East Economic Digest.
He said that they had held preliminary discussions with the governments and that the IAEA’s technical advisory programme would be offered to them to help with studies into creating power plants.
Mark Fitzpatrick, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Times that it was clear that the sudden drive for nuclear expertise was to provide the Arabs with a "security hedge".
"If Iran was not on the path to a nuclear weapons capability you would probably not see this sudden rush [in the Arab world]," he said.
Until recently Arab countries had been pushing for a nuclear free Middle East, where only Israel has nuclear weapons.
British AOL Poll
Does the development worry you?
Yes, the bomb is the next natural step - 69%
No, they're allowed nuclear power - 31%