Analysis - Iraq nuclear power plants aspirations: Russia makes key partner in absence of US

Analysis - Iraq nuclear power plants aspirations: Russia makes key partner in absence of US

As the heat season arrives, power outages across Iraq rise to be top challenge for Baghdad and Erbil leaders. Though having 8.4 percent of the world's oil reserves, Iraq is badly incapable of producing power and managing it. Over the past years, power outages have repeatedly plagued Iraqi citizens and even ignited widespread protests in various cities, especially in Basra.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): As the heat season arrives, power outages across Iraq rise to be top challenge for Baghdad and Erbil leaders. Though having 8.4 percent of the world's oil reserves, Iraq is badly incapable of producing power and managing it. Over the past years, power outages have repeatedly plagued Iraqi citizens and even ignited widespread protests in various cities, especially in Basra. 

These challenges have been a driving force for the Iraqi government efforts in recent years to seek construction of nuclear power plants to fight the long power outages in the hot seasons. 

The Iraqi officials are well aware that electricity consumption in the country will increase by about 50 percent by 2030, and they are already looking for a way to solve this foreseeable crisis. 

In the past year, the Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, negotiated with various countries to build nuclear power plants. The Iraqi Radioactive Resources Regulatory Authority (IRRRA) plans to build, in association with Russia, eight nuclear power plants for $40 billion. Its chief Kamal Hussein Latif, on May 20 announced that the country's National Committee for Nuclear Reactors (NCNR) is studying 30 potential sites for the nuclear reactors. According to the Iraqi officials, 20 preliminary sites have so far been marked, and after "scientific studies", 5 sites will be finalized for the job. Then 2 will be picked as main and the rest as alternative sites. 

The Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1956. Baghdad was trying to build an atomic bomb in the 1970s until the start of the war with Iran in the early 1980s. Following the Persian Gulf War and the occupation of Kuwait, Iraq allowed UN inspectors to inspect the country's nuclear facilities and agreed to suspend its nuclear program in 1994, but in 1998 Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein banned the UN inspections. In 2010, the UN Security Council lifted restrictions on Iraq's nuclear activities, and Baghdad signed the International Atomic Energy Agency's Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Under the Ba'athist regime, Iraq had only one nuclear reactor, the Osirak, supplied by France. The reactor was destroyed by separate Israeli and American airstrikes. 

The projected power production from the planned reactors is about 11 gigawatts. The Iraqi government tries to pay the $40 billion through foreign partners financing the project for 20 years, and has held talks with France, the US, Russia and South Korea. But the point is that, despite Iraq's initial offers to the West, Moscow has become Iraq's top choice to build the reactors. 

The US and indifference to real Iraqi needs for nuclear power plants 

Building nuclear reactors in Iraq in cooperation with France was first raised in August 2020 during al-Kadhimi's visit to Paris and meeting with President Emmanuel Macron. Iraq has also demanded a meeting with the US officials to discuss the issue, and there is even evidence that during strategic talks between Baghdad and Washington, nuclear power plants issue was raised, only for the Iraqi side to face American disregard. 

The US rejection of the Iraq's demand for cooperation is coming while according NPT all countries have the right for peaceful use of nuclear energy. Washington sets specific conditions for those demanding its nuclear facilities supply. One of the conditions is signing an accord dubbed Section 124 Agreement. According to the agreement, which was approved by the US in 1945 and amended in 1954, cooperation of the state and private nuclear companies with foreign sides follows some considerations. 

These considerations include a ban on developing uranium enrichment cycle, purchasing nuclear fuel for the foreign-provided reactors from the international companies, and approving international mechanisms for supervision on the nuclear program. Accordingly, to start nuclear cooperation with a country, Washington demands signing the above-mentioned conditions. The signed agreement is sent to the Congress for a green light and the latter has to approve it within 90 days. The US has so far signed this agreement with 28 countries, including Egypt in 1981, Turkey in 2008, and the UAE in 2009. 

For example, the UAE approved deprivation of its right to enrich and develop any facilities related to enrichment. According to the nuclear activities law approved in the Arab country, any effort for enrichment will face prison punishment. Additionally, the US inspectors are allowed to inspect any Emirati nuclear facility independent of the IAEA inspectors. 

Despite that, the US reasons for not entering to the Iraqi nuclear power program are two: First, the US is required to consider the Israeli vision and considerations before any investment in the nuclear programs of West Asian states. Having in mind the Tel Aviv is hostile to the regional nations including Iraq, Washington plans no entry to the Iraqi nuclear sector. Second, the Americans never want stability in Iraq. They definitely know that settling the power crisis in Iraq will considerably scale down the protest waves in the Arab country, something yielding a strong Iraqi government. This outlook is never desired by Washington. After all, it is in a state of insecurity and political mess that the Americans have opportunity to play a role and continue their occupation in Iraq. 

Benefits of cooperation with Russia 

Unlike the US and other Western countries, Moscow can now be the most ideal country to realize Baghdad's dream of using nuclear fuel to produce power. Over the past few decades, Russia has played a key role in designing nuclear power plants in various countries in West Asia. The Russian nuclear giant Rosatom currently oversees the Aquio nuclear power plant project in Turkey and owns 51 percent of the shares in the project.

Russia also cooperates with the UAE in the Arab country's nuclear program and signed a deal with Iran Atomic Energy Organization to build at least 8 power plants. Rosatom is currently working on phase two of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant with a total capacity of 2,100 megawatts. Also, the company is building a power plant for Egypt and plans two for Saudi Arabia. It also signed contracts to build power plants for Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Sudan. Rosatom is also active internationally on a large scale. In December 2018, Argentina minister of economy said his country was in negotiations with the Russian nuclear company to build a power plant. Given these records, the Russians and Rosatom certainly make the partners of choice for Iraq to build nuclear power plants.



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