Israel, Syria announce nuclear energy ambitions
Paris: Mideast rivals Israel and Syria on Tuesday each announced ambitions to develop nuclear energy, with Israel facing the prospect that its plan could bring new attention to its secretive nuclear activities.
The countries laid out their hopes at an international conference in Paris on civilian nuclear energy — which contributes far less to global warming than burning of fossil fuels but still evokes many concerns about long-term safety issues.
The announcements raise the prospect that the countries' nuclear programs could come under the microscope of international inspectors to ensure that they don't cross the forbidden line into weapons programs. Iran, for example, has come under intense pressure to show its nuclear program is peaceful.
Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear program has also drawn international scorn, were not invited to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conference.
Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau said nuclear plants built in Israel will be subject to strict safety and security controls, and even said his country would like to build them in cooperation with scientists and engineers from "our Arab neighbors."
"Israel has always considered nuclear power to partially replace its dependence on coal," Landau said.
The program aims to help Israel secure its energy supplies and battle global warming. Israel currently uses coal and natural gas to produce electricity.
The effort by Israel, which has long been suspected to have a secret nuclear weapons program, runs the risk that its nuclear energy program will draw the eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The construction of a nuclear reactor could draw international attention to Israel's nuclear activities. Asked if Israel would allow IAEA inspectors to supervise any new project, Landau aide Chen Ben Lulu said only that Israel would follow all the relevant rules.
Israel has not signed the Nonproliferation Treaty, which aims to limit the number of countries capable of developing nuclear weapons.
Separately at the conference, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad his country is looking at "alternative energy sources, including nuclear energy" to meet its growing demands for energy.
"The peaceful application of nuclear energy should not be monopolized by the few that own this technology but should be available to all," Mekdad said, noting Syria's growing population.
He did not elaborate on specific nuclear plans.
Between the two countries, Israel is seen as closer to actually developing nuclear energy in terms of know-how and infrastructure.
The idea of generating nuclear energy has been floating around for years in Israel. In 2007, one of Landau's predecessors said he was working on a plan to build a nuclear power plant in Israel's southern Negev desert.
Landau met several months ago with the French Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, and raised the idea of French-Israeli-Jordanian cooperation in developing a nuclear power plant.
Borloo was enthusiastic about that idea, Landau said. France derives more of its electricity from nuclear power than any other country and has a highly developed civilian nuclear industry — and Paris sees export potential.
It was France that, beginning in the 1950s, helped Israel build its nuclear reactor at Dimona. Israel is believed to have used that reactor to construct a stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Israel has never acknowledged being a nuclear power, following a policy it calls "nuclear ambiguity." Israel also has a smaller nuclear reactor for research at Nahal Soreq, not far from Tel Aviv.
Landau's office says no specific plans to set up a third nuclear power plant have been drawn up so far.