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The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council — including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — have agreed to develop nuclear energy technology jointly for peaceful purposes.

The plan was announced at the 27th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last week (9–10 December).

"The possession of peaceful nuclear technology is a legal right," said Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, adding that "such technology is crucial to the GCC countries [to] cope with the current progress witnessed in this field".

The summit approved joint educational and scientific research programmes at science and technology institutions in the region, according to Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah, the GCC secretary-general.

The countries have ordered a study to draw up a joint nuclear technology programme. They agreed to organise joint conferences and workshops, as well as increase the exchange of knowledge and technical expertise.

They also approved higher educational programmes, which will be carried out in regional universities under the supervision of the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States.

Hassan Moawad, former president of Alexandria's Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technological Applications in Egypt, said promoting nuclear energy will help towards reducing the region's emissions of carbon dioxide, which cause global warming.

"Although the Riyadh declaration did not elaborate on the nuclear energy cooperation programme, it is expected that it will focus on joint projects to develop capacity building in the region and use nuclear technology for agricultural, water resources, health, and industrial purposes," he told SciDev.Net.

According to a report published last month by the Middle East Economic Digest, Saudi Arabia is developing domestic nuclear power programmes to diversify energy sources, primarily to power water desalination. Similar plans are being developed for the United Arab Emirates.  

Meanwhile the Gulf states have already started to plan, develop and use renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-energy to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

In 2004 for instance, the United Arab Emirates opened the Arabian Peninsula's first wind power plant (see 'Gulf states 'need R&D in all aspects of climate change'').

The next GCC summit will be held in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, in December 2007.