Plans to create a new National Nuclear Research Center are a reminder that Azerbaijan's goals are diverse and ambitious.

An announcement was made in May 2014 to create a brand new National Center for Nuclear Research in Azerbaijan under the authority of the Ministry of Communications and High Technologies. The President signed the decree for its establishment, and in his address he stated that, despite research having taken place in certain areas of nuclear technology, the research so far was “purely scientific and theoretical." The proposed center is set to change that as it will include a reactor that will enable far greater progress in the field of nuclear research and provide Azerbaijan with the potential to assert itself in a new field.

Both the President and the Minister of Communications and High Technologies, Professor Dr. Ali Abbasov, are keen to emphasize that the research will be for peaceful purposes as concerns over the nuclear capability of Iran, Azerbaijan's neighbor to the south, have not yet been fully alleviated. The Ministry is working in close cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in order to bring together a smooth and regulated plan for the Nuclear Center.

The educational element of this plan is one of the most significant. Professor Dr. Ali Abbasov states that it is now a priority to add nuclear sciences and technology to the educational curriculum, while there are measures being put in place to establish cooperation with global nuclear research centers in order to train employees to international standards.

As a part of the initial process, Adil Garibov, the Director of the Institute of Radiation Problems for the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, was appointed Chairman of the National Center for Nuclear Research in July 2014. According to Garibov, the next important step for the Nuclear Center is to obtain licensing from the IAEA, a process that will take two years. If that is successful, a nuclear reactor with a capacity of 20MW will be launched in 2020. Azerbaijan is renowned for its oil and gas sector, and alternative energy also has some potential. However, Garibov stressed that Azerbaijan is looking far into the future when nuclear energy will be important for the country.

Plans to implement this center have already caused interest and discussion around the world. Azerbaijan currently cooperates with a number of countries in the field of nuclear energy but the 2014 announcement led to increased interest from both Argentina and France. Argentinian delegates met with Professor Dr. Ali Abbasov in September 2014 and discussed the potential to further cooperation especially in the field of nuclear energy and satellite activity. INVAP SE, an Argentinian company, has been negotiating the possibility of cooperating with Azercosmos in the sphere of satellite activity for almost two years; however, recent developments have also provided potential for the Argentinian company to cooperate in the construction of the nuclear reactor. French company Areva also expressed interest in partnering with the National Center of Nuclear Research. During François Hollande's visit in May 2014, in which further cooperation in nuclear and renewable energy was discussed, VINCI Construction Grand Projets was also mentioned as a potential partner for the construction of the nuclear reactor.

The project itself could be seen as an example of foresight regarding Azerbaijan's energy needs. Although Azerbaijan is energy proficient and exporting some of its electricity, the establishment of the National Center for Nuclear Research is a recognition that Azerbaijan not only needs to diversify its economy, but also diversify its energy production. Plans for the center are still at an early stage and so the challenge will be to ensure that, amidst low oil prices and a depreciating manat, the center can be completed efficiently and in a timely manner. It is undoubtedly an ambitious project, but with international cooperation and oversight from IAEA, Azerbaijan should be successful in completing the initial steps of the project.