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Egypt to relaunch civil nuclear program

AFP | September 25 2006

Egypt is to relaunch its civil nuclear energy program after a 20-year freeze, with plans for a nuclear power station on the Mediterranean coast, officials said Sunday.

The government's Supreme Council for Energy met Sunday for the first time in 18 years to discuss alternative energy sources including the nuclear option.

"The meeting decided to immediately begin studying a nuclear alternative in the light of increased need in Egypt," cabinet spokesman Magdi Radi told MENA, the official news agency.

"The rate of consumption has surpassed the rate of development, and alternatives from other energy sources... are limited while the nuclear option has spread in the world as a result of an increase in safety," Radi said.

On Thursday, President Hosni Mubarak told delegates at the closing session of his annual party conference that Egypt needed to begin looking into nuclear energy.

"We must benefit from sources of new and renewable energy, including peaceful uses of nuclear energy," he said.

"The future of energy is a central element in the building of the nation's own future," Mubarak said.

On Sunday, Egypt's minister of electricity, Hassan Yunes, told the state-owned Al-Ahram daily that his country would have an operational power plant within 10 years of the project's approval.

Egypt will build a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant at al-Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast at a cost of between 1.5 and two billion dollars, Yunes told the newspaper.

He also said that Egypt would negotiate with foreign organisations over funding for the project.

Egypt's nuclear program was frozen in 1986 following the accident at the Chernobyl power plant in what was then the Soviet Union.

Although not a member of OPEC, Egypt exports crude oil despite slim reserves, and has also tapped into natural gas reserves.

The independent daily al-Masri al-Yom quoted anonymous sources as saying that the government planned to construct three 1,800-megawatt nuclear power stations.

Another daily, the state-owned al-Akhbar, quoted Yunes as saying several construction sites for power stations of a capacity of up to 5,000 megawatts had been identified.

On Thursday, US ambassador to Egypt Francis J. Ricciardone said that the United States would have no objection to Egypt's peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Speaking to Egypt's al-Mehwar television, Ricciardone said that "the United States encourages the peaceful use of nuclear power for civilian purposes throughout the world".

Ahmed al-Qadi, former Chairman of the Nuclear Security Center, said that the al-Dabaa reactor could produce more electricity than the Aswan High Dam.

Electricity is heavily subsidised in Egypt, with the government bearing the brunt of the cost while domestic consumers pay little.

But key regional US ally Egypt is not expected to encounter the same problems faced by Iran in its controversial quest for nuclear energy.

Egypt, a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, officially calls for the elimination of atomic arms in the region, and has repeatedly criticised Israel for its possession of nuclear weapons.

Israel refuses to acknowledge or deny that it has nuclear arms, but most experts agree that it has at least 200 atom bombs in its arsenal.

On Friday, a bid by Arab nations to pass a resolution at the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency condemning Israel's nuclear activities failed because of technical objections raised by Western countries.

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