June 22, 2010 / 7:51 AM / 9 years ago

U.N. watchdog backs Egypt nuclear power plant plans

* Egypt wants to build four nuclear plants by 2025

* Cairo backed 2012 conference on WMD-free Middle East

CAIRO, June 22 (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog is ready to cooperate with plans to build nuclear power plants in Egypt, which is now working on locations for construction, the head of the U.N. body said on Tuesday.

Egypt said in March it planned to build four plants by 2025 and inaugurate the first in 2019 in an effort to reduce the most populous Arab country’s reliance on oil and gas. Officials hope the programme would add capacity of up to 4,000 megawatts.

“The IAEA is very happy to cooperate with Egypt in its project of introducing nuclear power. Now Egypt is finalizing its plan of choosing the site for its nuclear plant,” said Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Speaking after talks with Egyptian officials, he told reporters he had proposed sending a mission to Egypt. He did not give details.

The official state news agency MENA also quoted Electricity and Energy Minister Hassan Ahmed Younes saying the IAEA had voiced its full support of Egypt’s nuclear programme.

Egypt, with 78 million peopled, has signed a nuclear power consultancy deal with Australia’s WorleyParsons (WOR.AX).

The deal, reached last year, includes looking for potential locations and updating studies on the Dabaa site on the Mediterranean coast, where Egypt planned to build a power station in the 1980s.

Egypt has long pressed for making the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone and backed plans for a U.N.-sponsored conference for Middle East states in 2012 on the issue.

Israel is widely believed to have the region’s only nuclear arsenal. Western powers suspect Iran of developing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian programme. Tehran denies such ambitions.

“In the upcoming conference in 2012 of the creation of a nuclear free zone, we have further discussed the aid that the agency could extend to Egypt,” Amano said. (Reporting by Marwa Awad, writing by Edmund Blair)

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