TUNIS, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Tunisia aims to have an atomic power plant up and running by 2020, an industry official said on Thursday, the second Arab country after Egypt to unveil concrete plans to develop nuclear reactors for industrial use. “Tunisia will have its first nuclear power station in 2020, allowing it to produce 900 megawatts of electricity, the equivalent of 20 percent of the country’s energy needs,” Othmane Ben Arfa, head of the state-owned Tunisian Electricity and Gas Company, was quoted as saying by state media.
“A nuclear power station is very important for Tunisia in an energy context marked by a surge in hydrocarbon prices.”
He did not say whether the government had issued tenders for designing and building the plant or how much it might cost.
According to media reports in May, Tunisia had been considering building a 600 megawatt nuclear plant at a cost of $1.14 billion.
The power station would help make up for dwindling production at Tunisia’s oil fields. The country spends heavily on energy imports to power its electricity network.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria have all shown an interest in developing nuclear power, primarily for water desalination, a senior official at the International Atomic Energy Agency was quoted as saying earlier this month in the Middle East Economic Digest.
Egypt’s government has ordered studies into building atomic plants after President Hosni Mubarak called for a dialogue on the issue.
Morocco, which produces no oil of its own, in May denied media reports that it planned to build a nuclear power station.
Analysts say that, besides the need for alternative energy sources, western-allied Arab countries may be concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the effect on the balance of power in the region.
Civilian nuclear programmes do not give countries the ability to make atomic weapons but some of the technology could potentially be put to military use.
Iran says it has the right to develop nuclear fuel, which it wants to use for peaceful goals.
((Reporting by Tarek Amara, Tunis newsroom; +216 71 787 538; fax: 217 71 787 454; email@example.com)) Keywords: ENERGY TUNISIA NUCLEAR
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