Halpern: What Busher means


I'm thinking

by Micah Halpern

Issue of September 3, 2010/ 24 Elul 5770
Almost everyone with an interest in the Middle East has an opinion on the opening of Busher, the Iranian nuclear power plant. Newspapers, weeklies, radio and television news are all editorializing, hypothesizing and predicting. But more interesting than what the Western press has to say is what the regional press is saying.

Understanding the local press is critical in terms of understanding the impact Busher will have on the region. The ripple effect of this nuclear plant will, make no doubt about it, be felt throughout the Middle East. The West will have to respond – and the best response scenario, a strong effective policy – one that has the best chance of success, hinges on an understanding of what Busher means not only to Iran, but to Iran’s friends, enemies and neighbors.

So what are Iran’s neighbors saying?

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has made a very powerful argument for building this nuclear plant.  According to Nasrallah, "Building the Busher nuclear power plant was cheaper than Lebanon's investment in its power grid. I call on the government to build a nuclear power station to produce electricity, which we can than sell to Syria, Cyprus and other countries in the region." In other words, Nasrallah wants Lebanon on board. Nasrallah wants Lebanon to emulate Iran and Nasrallah has begun to seriously lobby Lebanon’s government to that end.

The government of Kuwait is in complete disagreement with Nasrallah. Kuwait News Agency, known as KUNA, covered the opening of Busher by explaining that their country is petrified that a leak, meltdown or attack will endanger their people, their water and their natural resources. In an open and honest evaluation of the impact of Busher on their country KUNA writes that "Kuwait's concern is based on fears of any leaks due to natural causes that may have future consequences."

SUNA, the Sudan News Agency, has weighed in, too. Remember, Sudan is a thugocracy, Sudan is responsible for the mass murders in Darfur. And Sudan has declared that they, too, want to develop a nuclear power plant. Sudanese energy officials have already begun talking to the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog about opening not one, but two nuclear plants. The Sudanese say that one will be used for research and the other used for energy. In fact, the SUNA report says that Sudan has already received permission for the plants. “The Ministry of Electricity and Dams has already started preparing for the project to produce power from nuclear energy in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and is expected to build the first nuclear power plant in the year 2020," SUNA explained.

For their part, the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency - the world’s watch dog for everything nuclear, is saying that the Sudanese plants are for research and research only.

Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already begun either investigating or planning their own nuclear reactors. Syria’s nuclear reactor, built by North Korea, has already been blown up by Israel.

Israel’s reaction to Busher is clear, obvious and has been made very public.

Regional tensions are high. Fear is palpable. Busher has taken on a life of its own. The Western world will have to tread carefully — forcefully, but carefully.