Kuwait unveils plan to tackle possible radiation accidents

Kuwait's ministry of health has announced a plan to deal with accidents involving radioactive pollution, one week after Kuwaiti officials expressed concern with the proximity of Iran's new nuclear plant.

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's ministry of health has announced a plan to deal with accidents involving radioactive pollution, one week after Kuwaiti officials expressed concern with the proximity of Iran's new nuclear plant. "The ministry of health is ready to deal with any radioactive pollution accidents," a senior ministry official, Samir al Asfour, told local reporters on Saturday, the state news agency, Kuna, reported.

Mr al Asfour said the plan, which was formulated in co-ordination with civil defence officials, follows guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for countries located near nuclear reactors. "It includes draft emergency measures for each state department to follow in case of accidents involving nuclear radiation," Mr al Asfour said. "A network consisting of 15 fixed and two mobile detection stations has been put in place nationwide to gauge the levels of radiation in the border areas as well as the residential areas."

Equipment to detect radiation levels in air, water, soil and food samples has been provided to Kuwaiti laboratories, Mr al Asfour said, adding that the ministry of health has up to 60 million doses of medication for treating radiation sickness. Iran began loading the Russian-built plant in Bushehr with uranium fuel on August 21. The plant is the first of 20 that Tehran plans to build to achieve its stated goal of diversifying the country's power sources away from fossil fuels.

Sheikh Mohammed Sabah al Sabah, the minister of foreign affairs, said last week that Iran and Russia had assured Kuwait that the technology used in the reactor was sophisticated, but expressed his concern about the new reactor's proximity. Bushehr is located about 300km east of Kuwait City. "I will be worried because there is a nuclear station that is very close to me - regardless of it being in Iran or any other location ? So we want to make sure that the technology used is of a high level," the minister said.

Khaled al Jarallah, an undersecretary at the ministry of foreign affairs, said the fear of inadvertent leaks led his government to undertake the emergency planning. Iran's foreign ministry defended the plant's construction, the Iranian Labour News Agency reported. "The Bushehr nuclear plant meets high-level safety standards and there is no concern for the environment. This has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency," said Ramin Mehmanparast, a foreign ministry spokesman, at a news conference on Tuesday.

After the Bushehr plant is activated, it will produce 1,000 megawatts of electricity, but this would be just 1,000 MW out of the 20,000 MW of nuclear energy envisaged in Iran's 20-year plan, an Iranian parliamentarian, Hamid Reza Fouladgar, told the Fars news agency. The United States has expressed concern about Russia's co-operation with Iran to build the Bushehr power plant in the past and suspects Iran is pursuing an atomic energy programme to obtain nuclear weapons.

A US State Department spokesman, Darby Holladay, told reporters after the opening of the plant last week that Russia's agreement to supply fuel and take the spent uranium rods minimises the risk of proliferation. "Russia's support for Bushehr underscores that Iran does not need an indigenous enrichment capability if its intentions are purely peaceful," Mr Holladay said. "We recognise that the Bushehr reactor is designed to provide civilian nuclear power and do not view it as a proliferation risk," he added.

@Email:jcalderwood@thenational.ae

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