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Nuclear energy a must for the Kingdom.

Byline: Arab News

An International Symposium on the Peaceful Applications of Nuclear Technology in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will be held at King Abdul Aziz University (KAU) in Jeddah on Nov. 3-5. The Higher Education Ministry and the KAU's department of nuclear engineering are jointly organizing the event. The chairman of the department, Mohammed ibn Subian Al-Johani, who is secretary to the organizing committee, spoke to Arab News about the event in depth.

Why do you think this symposium is important?

This symposium is important because it is the first of its kind in the Arab Gulf region and is a milestone in the technological advancement of this country, in particular, and other GCC countries, as a whole. It is also important because the whole world is considering nuclear power as a viable option in the face of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

You said technological advancement; could you please elaborate?

Yes. Nuclear technology is very wide in its applications. A nuclear reactor can produce electricity in a sustained fashion for years. Radioisotopes produced by the reactors have a number of industrial, medical and scientific applications. Presently the Kingdom and other GCC countries are importing most of these isotopes that are costly and time consuming to acquire. Moreover, when you import such materials there is no guarantee of a continuous supply.

You said the world is looking toward nuclear option, but won't the nuclear power plants cause pollution?

No. This is a general thinking that is not correct. In fact, a nuclear power plant does not emit carbon or other pollutants like a fossil fuel plant. Also the electricity produced by a nuclear plant is cost effective. I am not forgetting other clean sources of energy like hydroelectric, solar and wind. But all of them have limitations. While saying this, I must say something about radioactive waste that a nuclear plant produces. These wastes may be compacted and disposed safely.

Could you please outline the objectives of the symposium?

Yes. First let me tell you that the symposium is in response to a resolution passed at the 27th GCC Summit held in Riyadh in December 2006 that announced the intention to pursue the application of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and the setting up of a joint plan in this regard. The six GCC leaders commissioned a study to set up a program in the area of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in accordance with international standards and systems. This common nuclear activity will follow international treaties and be subject to verification inspections. Following the summit, the 16th meeting of the GCC committee of presidents of the universities and higher education decided to convene the symposium.

The main objectives of the symposium are: One, to draw the attention of the local scientific community in the GCC countries to the potentials and capabilities of nuclear science and technology. Two, to draw the attention of international nuclear organizations to the potential market in the region. Three, to help local authorities plan strategically by providing them vital information in the field. Four, increase public awareness in the field. In short, we hope the symposium will help induce an awakening in all related constituencies that will pave the way to a technology transfer in a big way.

Coming to other specifics of the conference, who will be the participants?

The participants are about 50 experts in various nuclear fields from 20 countries including, among others, the United States, Russia, China, Japan, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Australia, Malaysia, Turkey and Egypt. They will present papers and discuss topics related to nuclear technology and also those relevant to the region. In addition, there will be an exhibition by vendors dealing in various areas of this technology.

Can you tell me about the organization of the symposium and the sponsors?

The government of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, as always, has been extending all assistance to this event. King Abdullah is the chief patron. Khaled Al-Anqari, the minister for higher education, has been very supportive. Osama Tayeb, president of KAU, Abdullah Bafail, vice-president for research and higher studies, Faisal Iskandarani, dean of the college of engineering, are putting all efforts to make a success of the event.

The symposium is fully sponsored by the Ministry of Higher Education. The department of nuclear engineering bears the responsibility of holding the symposium.

Can you highlight symposium's themes?

In a nutshell, the themes are: Strategic planning to introduce nuclear technology in the GCC countries, nuclear power, nuclear research reactors, radiation protection status in GCC countries and radioisotope applications. All these themes have tremendous dimensions.

If nuclear research reactors and power plants are introduced in the Kingdom, what you think about the adequacy of the domestic manpower, keeping in mind the nuclear engineers the universities have been producing for the last several years?

Universities in the Kingdom have been producing nuclear engineers. For example, the nuclear engineering department at KAU has both bachelor and master programs in nuclear engineering for the last several years. Our graduates are working in several nuclear related fields. However, hands-on training programs and manpower development in various nuclear fields will definitely be required when it comes to sophisticated technology.

What about the job opportunities for young graduates once the new technologies are introduced?

As I mentioned earlier, these graduates upon getting sufficient training will presumably have tremendous job opportunities. We are positively assisting in developing the proper manpower. We are currently working on many multidisciplinary programs in nuclear technology. Our modified master's and Ph.D programs are currently under way.

In what way do you think this symposium is useful to the local nonacademic community?

Some of the topics in the symposium are primarily aimed at creating awareness among the public about the scope and safety measures related to radiation. The gathering of this large number of scientists and experts in one place and under one roof is in itself a benefit to our community. The studies, researches and working papers submitted by the participants are real wealth to our society.

For the general public is there any restriction or requirement to attend the symposium?

No. All are welcome. The university's doors will always remain open for the public.

In your opinion in which ways the symposium would be historically significant in the Middle East?

This symposium is the first of its kind to initiate a coordinated effort in GCC countries toward establishing infrastructure for the peaceful application of nuclear technology.

How is this symposium different from other usual academic symposiums?

It is hoped that this symposium will act as a frame of reference for a rapid development of nuclear technology in the region.

What sort of help do you need from the local intellectual community to make the symposium a success?

No development or venture can stand or move alone without the coordinated effort of a team ready for local action with a global vision. I am quite optimistic that this event will increase the momentum for activating such a task force in this region.

To what extent in your opinion is this going to be beneficial to the student community in this region?

Surely, any symposium of this nature is eventually beneficial to the student community. They will be highly exposed to the need of developing their potential and in turn they will be motivated to professionally equip themselves for the need of the hour.

What kind of attitude would you like to develop among the Kingdom's student community?

We are in need for energetic and dynamic young generation to take up the challenge of leading this region to the forefront of the scientific and technological advancement. They are to realize that they are the real builders of nations. We wish for a generation of students who are intellectually and emotionally superior and socially and morally robust.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Nov 3, 2008
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