Nuclear ships 'threat to Gulf region'
Manama, March 10, 2008
The region is at a serious risk of a major catastrophe due to military nuclear-powered and armed ships and submarines entering Gulf waters, an expert has warned.
The vessels 'come and go as they please' with no one to monitor them, said Regional Organisation for the Protection of the Marine Environment executive secretary Dr Abdulrehman Al Awadhi.
'If there is a radiation leak in any of these vessels, it would spell disaster for the area,' Dr Al Awadhi told the Gulf Daily News, our sister publication.
'When the ship is in port or even in the waters off port, by the time anything could be done, it would be too late.'
Dr Al Awadhi was speaking on the sidelines of the fourth annual workshop entitled 'Radiation Measurements Cross Calibration - Establishing Laboratory Standards in the Middle East', at the InterContinental Regency Hotel.
The three-day event is organised by the Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Centre, in collaboration with Bahrain University's Science College and US-based Sandia National Laboratories.
It aims at setting up radiation detection methodologies, looking at environmental sampling and analysis technologies and studying air monitoring methodologies and applications.
Representatives of all GCC states are attending the workshop, which concludes tomorrow.
'The problem is that there are no measures that are in place to monitor these ships,' said Dr Al Awadhi. 'They could be up to anything.'
He said while it was true that those on board the vessels would also be affected, 'the damage to people like you and me, the damage to the environment and the effects on the region's fragile ecology would be tremendous'.
Dr Al Awadhi said in the whole of the US, there were only two ports where nuclear powered ships were allowed to dock.
'This is also done under very strict monitoring. In Norway, for example, all ships that enter the country's waters are screened for radiation leaks. Nothing like that happens anywhere in the Gulf,' he said.
Dr Al Awadhi said it was time the authorities took note of this serious issue.
'There have to be laws in place to punish the violators. Radiation is an invisible, silent threat. It has no smell, no colour and cannot be felt. The only way to detect it is to have special monitoring equipment,' he said.
The workshop concentrated on how to detect such leaks and how to share information, said Dr Al Awadhi.
'This region is so small. A leak in Bahrain, for example, could have a disastrous effect in Saudi Arabia or vice versa. If the Saudi and the Bahraini systems tell different stories, there could once again be a disaster in the making. These have to be properly calibrated,' he said.
Dr Al Awadhi dismissed allegations that Iran's nuclear power plant in Bushehr was a serious threat to the region.
'While it is not a threat as it is, any attack on the facility by the US or Israel can have very serious repercussions. There are plenty of safeguards to ensure there is no problem,' he said.
Dr Al Awadhi said in the event of the plant being attacked, the GCC states would be affected.
University professor of applied physics Waheeb Alnaser said the workshop was of great significance to the region since it looks at teaching all those concerned the right way to measure radiation.
'All systems all over the region have to be calibrated and read the same way so as to avoid any confusion,' said Prof Alnaser.
He said there was no problem if countries wish to go nuclear provided proper safeguards are in place.
'Wherever there is a nuclear facility, there will be a risk,' he said. 'To say that such a facility will be free of risk is not right.'
Giving the example of Japan, he said a recent 'mild' earthquake there had resulted in a nuclear power plant being shut down.
'We have had similar situations elsewhere as well. Radiation h