The Iranian government decided on Sunday to construct a new nuclear power station in the Arab-majority province of Khuzestan, amid controversy over the country's nuclear programme.
Iran is accused by many governments of using nuclear power stations to enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons, whereas the Iranian regime claims that its intentions are peaceful. The plan for a Khuzestan nuclear power station comes after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be wiped off the map. There is also mounting evidence that he intends to use the province as a primary base for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's operations abroad. This week, Bassij militias are conducting military exercises in Khuzestan's Dasht-e Azadegan (Susangerd) district.
Khuzestan is home to some 4.5 million Ahwazi Arabs, many of whom have been forced off their land for industrial projects and military installations. The government's plans to forcibly remove thousands of Ahwazi Arabs from the borders for the 155 square km military-industrial Arvand Free Zone project, situated along the Shatt Al-Arab dividing Khuzestan and Iraq's Basra province, have generated anxiety within the EU. Last week, delegates from the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran, comprised of Kurdish, Arab, Balochi, Azeri and Turkmen groups, met with senior officials of the European Parliament, Council and Commission - the EU's three main decision-making bodies - to discuss ethnic oppression in Iran, including the impact of the militarisation of the Shatt Al-Arab.
Many Ahwazis and others living near sites for future nuclear power plants in Ahwaz and Bushehr are concerned about safety in this earthquake-prone region. The nuclear power station currently under construction and the source of international controversy is being located near Bushehr city, which has been destroyed by earthquakes on three occasions and is near the same geological faultline as the earthquake that destroyed Bam in 2003. Any tremours on a Richter Scale of 7 could destroy the Bushehr power station and any nuclear facility located in Khuzestan. But we can be sure that of these power plants go ahead, any earthquake on the magnitude of the recent earthquake in Pakistan, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, would be of major consequence to the people of the Gulf region.
Nasser Bani-Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, said: "The government claims that a nuclear power station in Khuzestan is essential to achieve its goal of meeting electricity demand with nuclear power supply. Yet, Khuzestan is one of the most oil-rich places on the planet.
"In terms of addressing the country's energy balance, it makes little sense to build a nuclear power station in Khuzestan instead of utilising the abundant local oil resources. Why is the regime not locating the station in the country's energy-poor areas or nearer the most urbanised and populated areas? This would reduce costs and improve transmission. There is just no economic justification for a civilian nuclear power station in Khuzestan, where less than a tenth of the total population lives.
"Neighbouring countries should be concerned over safety issues, as Khuzestan is an earthquake-prone area. The planned power station is being built using local expertise, but nuclear reactors built in earthquake zones need highly skilled engineering to minimise risks. If the nuclear power station is built without the supervision of world-class engineers, Khuzestan could witness a Chernobyl-scale disaster.
"Given that the province is heavily militarised and under de facto martial law, it seems likely that the planned station will have some military use. We have been warning the international community for months over the developments in Khuzestan and the negative impact militarisation this is having on the welfare and human rights of local inhabitants. The international community must act now to stop ethnic cleansing and militarisation in order to support human rights and peace in the region. The last thing the Ahwazi Arabs want is a nuclear power station with possible military uses in their homeland."