Nuclear Reactors in Developing Countries: The Peaceful Route

Khalid Alnoaimi
February 25, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2014


Fig. 1: Peaceful Nuclear Plants.

Nuclear power has emerged as a clean and power-intense resource to fuel power and desalination plants in the developing countries. The continuous growth of population and economies in the developing countries has instigated the desire to unlock all possible energy resources to fuel the growth needs. This includes adopting peaceful nuclear programs to build plants and import reactors from countries such as Russia, South Korea, Canada and France. Many developing countries such as UAE, Belarus and Turkey have started to work collaboratively with nuclear countries to construct and operate civilian nuclear plants. An overview of why would a developing country adopt nuclear power and what type of challenges it may face is discussed by Chowdhury. [1] The public perception, however, of nuclear power programs have came to downright quarrel after Japan's notorious Fukushima nuclear incident on March 2011. Many developed countries have revised the technical and safety practices of their nuclear plants after the wide anti-nuclear demonstrations. In Germany, for example, the government decided to shut all of its 17 nuclear plants by 2022 and rely on renewable resources to compensate for electricity generated from nuclear power plants. [2] In Italy, about 90% of the votes in a public referendum opposed the government policies on the nuclear power plans. [3] Restrained nuclear policies and plans have reached other European countries as well. The fact remains, however, that many other developing countries such as Turkey, Vietnam, UAE and Jordan are still looking at nuclear power as an attractive energy resource that could reduce the imported fuels, and therefore, are pushing hard to obtain the technology.

Access to Peaceful, Civilian Nuclear Energy

A nuclear non-proliferation treaty was enforced in 1970 to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear countries, to disarm the nuclear weapons from nuclear countries and promote peaceful nuclear programs that fuel economic and social growth. [4] The non-nuclear countries can seek to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. [4] While some developing countries did not sign this treaty, there has been violation to the research reactor agreement signed with nuclear countries to construct peaceful nuclear plants to be used as a fuel in electricity generation. Although they promised not do so, India and North Korea diverted the peaceful nuclear programs provided by Canada and Russia, respectively, to make plutonium that is essential to conduct weapon-related research that eventually brought both countries into becoming nuclear weapon powers. [5,6] Since then, the safeguard measures taken by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been reinforced to work more effectively to prevent diversion of civilian nuclear programs into weaponry programs.

Examples of Civilian Nuclear Plants

Many developing countries have signed up to join the peaceful nuclear power club but few have taken serious steps and in some cases joined the team. The frontrunner countries such as Iran, UAE, Turkey, Belarus and Vietnam have progressed differently. The topic of nuclear power in Iran is controversial and politically strenuous. Nevertheless, in 1994 Iran signed a contract with the Russian government to provide the former with a two-unit nuclear power plant of the Voda Voda Energo reactor (VVER) type that has power output of 1000 MWe light water based in Bushehr. The plant is constructed and operated by the Russians and the first unit has been commercially operating since 2011. [7] The second unit is yet to be built sometime in the future. Iran has worked on uranium enrichment and produced low enriched uranium gas, about 3.5% of U-235, and medium-enriched uranium gas, about 20% of U-235. [8] For weaponry application, uranium gas enrichment must exceed 90% purity of U-235. The issue of uranium enrichment is still in dispute between Iran and the IAEA, although signs of resolution are appearing in the media.

UAE, on the other hand, has taken another route in which it signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement in 2009 with France, South Korea and US. It has worked collaboratively with the IAEA and shared the nuclear plans and programs they intend to implement in the country. Abdul-Kafi discussed the Emirates' nuclear islands in good length. [9] UAE plans to build four reactors of the Advanced Power Reactor (APR) type with gross power output of 1400 MWe/reactor that will be located in Barakah city. The construction of the first reactor is scheduled to finish in 2017 while the rest of the three reactors will finish by 2020. [10]

Belarus, on the same hand, signed a contract in 2012 with the Russian nuclear plant construction company, Atomstroyexport, to supply the country with two reactors of the water cooled water moderated power type with output power of 1200 MWe/reactor that will be delivered to Hrodna Voblast at the Ostrovets site. [11] In Turkey, the government has signed with Russia an agreement in 2010 to build a nuclear plant in Akkuyu with four reactors of the WWER type that have a power output of 1200 MWe/reactor. [11] Another plant is to be built in coordination with the Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and French Areva in Sinop with four advanced power reactors that have a total capacity of 4800 MWe that will start operating in 2023. [12]

It is expected in the next decade, therefore, to see more developing countries following UAE, Turkey and Belarus after observing how successful their peaceful nuclear technology proves to be given their limited experience and infrastructure.


Many developing countries are insisting on reducing the imported fuels for electricity generation because the demand is increasing while accompanied with economic and social growth that must be maintained properly. Diversification of energy resources is an objective many nations try to achieve to become less dependent on foreigner fuels and to lower their carbon footprints. Resource availability, expertise, infrastructures, Climates and financial capabilities play major roles in defining feasible energy resource options for each developing country. Generally, most of the developing countries lack proper infrastructures and that increases installation costs. What makes nuclear power attractive is the great energy content it has as well as the zero-emission of carbon dioxide. The downside, though, is the high costs of adopting such a power and the great expertise and safety measures it requires. Countries with low GDP may have difficult financial commitment toward the financing countries that tends to be long. Additionally, the time period required for a developing country to come up with robust regulatory frameworks is long. Finally, the development of large human resource capacity requires strategic planning and effective time allocation. At some point, however, most countries will catch up with this technology as the world's hydrocarbon reserves are decreasing.

© Khalid Alnoaimi. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] N. Chowdhury, "Nuclear Energy for Developing Countries," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2012.

[2] A. Breidthardt, "German Government Wants Nuclear Exit By 2022 at Latest," Reuters, 30 May 11.

[3] D. Kennedy, "Italy Nuclear: Berlusconi Accepts Referendum Blow," BBC News, 14 Jun 11.

[4] "Treaty on The Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," International Atomic Energy Agency, INFCIRC/140, 22 Apr 70.

[5] C. Liekhus-Schmaltz, "The History and Current State of Canada's CANDU Nuclear Reactor," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2013.

[6] S. Agaian, "North Korean Nuclear Capability," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2011.

[7] R. J. Reardon, Containing Iran: Strategies for Addressing The Iranian Nuclear Challenge (Rand Corporation, 2012).

[8] "Iran's Nuclear Program: Status and Breakout Timing," The Bipartisan Policy Center, September 2011.

[9] S. Abdul-Kafi, "Emirates' Nuclear Islands," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2011.

[10] "Safety Evaluation Report of An Application for a License to Construct Barakah Units 1 and 2," Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, Abu Dhabi, July 2012.

[11] "Nuclear Technology Review 2013," International Atomic Energy Agency, GC(57)/INF/2, July 2013.

[12] O. Coskun and H. Pamuk, "Turkey's First Nuclear Plant Facing Further Delays- Sources ," Reuters, 7 Feb 2014.