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Israel and Syria announce nuclear energy ambitions

Israel's infrastructure minister and Syria's deputy foreign minister announce plans

Israel and Syria have both told a conference in Paris they want to use nuclear power to generate electricity.

Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau told delegates his country wanted to build new nuclear plants to reduce its dependence on coal.

Syria's deputy foreign minister said the peaceful application of nuclear energy should not be monopolised.

Israel has a research reactor open to international inspection, and another said to have produced nuclear weapons.

In 2007, Israeli jets destroyed a site in Syria which the US alleged was a covert nuclear reactor under construction - something Damascus has strenuously denied.

'Energy independence'

In a speech to a conference organised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mr Landau said Israel imported significant quantities of coal to generate electricity and wanted to find an alternative.

Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor (2004)
Israel is an IAEA member but has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty

"Israel is interested in being part of the circle of countries producing electricity from nuclear energy," he said.

"In a region like the Middle East, we can only depend on ourselves. Building a nuclear reactor to produce electricity will allow Israel to develop energy independence."

Environmental objections have also so far prevented the building of another coal-fired power plant.

Mr Landau said a site had already been chosen for a reactor in the northern Negev desert, and that he hoped the project would be a joint venture between Israel and one of its Arab neighbours - possibly Jordan - under the supervision of a Western nation such as France.

Israel, while a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is widely thought to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons. It practises a policy of "ambiguity".

Until recently it would have been unthinkable for any outside country to help it to develop nuclear power under these circumstances, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

Undated image released by the CIA of the alleged nuclear facility in Syria
Syria has dismissed US allegations of a secret nuclear programme

But a civilian nuclear deal between the US and India has changed the whole context, our correspondent says.

Israel may now also believe that such a facility would be less vulnerable to attack given the improvements in its anti-missile capabilities over recent years, he adds.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad told the conference that his country was also looking to develop alternative energy sources, including nuclear power.

"The peaceful application of nuclear energy should not be monopolised by the few that own this technology but should be available equally for all," he said.

However, Syria is still seen by the IAEA as failing to co-operate fully with its investigations into the alleged nuclear facility destroyed two years ago.

IAEA investigators found unexplained traces of uranium at the site, as well as at a nuclear research reactor in Damascus.

When asked about Syria's proposal, Mr Landau said any country generating nuclear power needed to have "responsible leadership that is also following all the measures and all the precautions... to ensure that all power plants that are built are used for peaceful means".



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