New Iraqi committee to build nuclear reactors, combat electricity woes

al-monitor An Iraqi man checks electrical wires in Baghdad on September 13, 2017. For years Iraqis have denounced the bad management and financial negligence that have stifled the country and let its infrastructure fall apart despite the injection of billions of dollars.  Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images.
Joe Snell

Joe Snell

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Nuclear Power

Sep 28, 2020

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered on Sept. 24 the formation of a committee tasked with overseeing the building of nuclear reactors for research purposes, according to the Iraqi Commission for Control of Radioactive Sources.

Electricity shortages have plagued the country for decades due to years of destruction in conflict and rampant corruption claims. The energy shortages were one of the more vocal complaints of last October’s protests that gripped the country. And Kadhimi’s injunction now comes amid renewed calls for protests later this week.

Why it matters:  The committee’s announcement follows a summit earlier this month in Baghdad between Kadhimi and French President Emmanuel Macron. On his Sept. 2 visit, Macron stressed support for Iraqi sovereignty. Among talking points between the leaders was the possibility of their countries working together on a nuclear project to solve Iraq’s electricity shortages.

The civil nuclear project would live under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and create jobs as well as combat electricity woes, Kadhimi said.

Proposals to curb electricity shortages have been rejected by the country’s leaders in the past. A proposal to Iraq’s ministerial energy committee was submitted in 2009 to build three power reactors, the head of the authority Kamal Hussein Latif told the Iraqi News agency. They were to be completed in 2019 and would have covered half of the country’s energy demands, but the bid failed.

"If it had started building the reactors at that time, Iraq would have now not suffered from a scarcity of electricity production, as well as exporting more oil instead of burning it,” Latif said.

Latif’s priorities now are building a nuclear reactor with strong capacity as well as building an investment hospital near the reactor for storing nuclear medicine. He estimates construction of the reactor will take about five years. The project will also contribute to staffing and training Iraqis and combating the country’s still significant unemployment concerns.

But results need to happen fast, Latif suggested. At the beginning of 2030, he said nearly half of Iraq’s oil will need to be burned in order to produce electricity as the demand will skyrocket.

What’s next:  Over one decade later, electricity shortages are still an important piece of alleviating concerns from last October’s protests that erupted over endemic corruption, high unemployment, decayed public services and foreign interference. The demonstrations that spread throughout the country led to the death of over 600 people and eventually pressured the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Baghdad has garnered support from the IAEA in recent years. Iraq has been a member state of the international nuclear watchdog agency since 1959. In 2017, Iraq’s deputy minister of higher education and science and technology and the IAEA deputy director-general signed a framework agreement through 2023 that solidified technical cooperation. The framework also identified eight priority areas where the transfer of nuclear technology and technical cooperation would be directed.

Know more:  Al-Monitor correspondent Adnan Abu Zeed discusses the Iraqi government’s serious steps to fight ongoing corruption.

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