BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iraq will focus on restarting its nuclear medicine program and may build a nuclear reactor for electricity now that the United Nations has ended nearly two decades of sanctions, government ministers said on Thursday.
The U.N. Security Council gave Iraq the green light on Wednesday to develop a civilian nuclear program, ending a 19-year ban dating back to the Saddam Hussein era and aimed at preventing it from developing atomic weapons.
Health Minister Saleh al-Hasnawi said Iraq would develop nuclear-based medicines widely used by other countries. The lifting of the ban will allow Iraq to import chemical and nuclear technology needed for such programs.
The UN move also allows Iraq to re-develop nuclear reactors, but Science and Technology Minister Raed Fahmy said a full study would be needed before the government could make a decision.
"The question here is, do we want to enter into the arena of having an electro-nuclear plant? Yes, it is an acceptable project and this option has become the choice of many countries in the world, especially because the world is looking to produce clean energy," he told Reuters.
Iraq is short of electricity and currently has a generating capacity of about 9,000 megawatts. The national grid supplies power for only a few hours a day.
In its effort to rebuild after years of war and sanctions, Iraq hopes to triple its capacity to 27,000 MW in four years.
Israeli jets bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.
Fahmy said Iraq still had nuclear expertise of its own. "Iraq possesses human and scientific abilities which will allow it to explore these (nuclear) fields. Without a doubt, we are in need of developing these abilities and resources."
NO NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Before invading Iraq in 2003, the United States and Britain accused Saddam Hussein of reviving a nuclear weapons program -- allegations that turned out to be wrong.
High Education Minister Abd Thiab al-Ajili said Middle Eastern and other countries should not be concerned about any Iraqi ambitions to pursue a nuclear weapons program.
"I want to ease everybody's fear. Iraq's political regime is not seeking to use this program to have nuclear weapons," he told Reuters.
"At the same time, Iraq has the right to develop and reactivate its program for peaceful activities to serve and develop programs in nuclear physics, medical aspects, electrical and environmental ones as well."
Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, the architect of major energy deals that could raise Iraq's position among global oil powers, said he would play an important role in ensuring the development of a peaceful nuclear program.
Iraq has been without a new government for more than nine months since an inconclusive election in March, though the main Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions reached agreement last month on how to divide up top government posts.
Political blocs are now negotiating over cabinet jobs and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he would form a government before the constitutional deadline later this month.
Any decision to build a nuclear reactor or start other nuclear programs will have to be taken by the new government.
"Iraq is in need of nuclear energy to develop its economy, agriculture and industry. It is an important, applicable science that covers all fields of life," said Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie, an Iraqi political analyst.
In two other resolutions, the United Nations also wound up the oil-for-food program -- which allowed Iraq to sell oil in order to buy humanitarian goods -- and decided that all immunities protecting Baghdad from claims related to the period when Saddam was in power would end on June 30, 2011.
(Additional reporting by Suadad al-Salhy; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; editing by Tim Pearce)
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