CAIRO, Egypt Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday announced plans to build several nuclear power plants, joining several Arab countries in the Middle East that recently have broadcast their own atomic energy ambitions.
Mubarak said in a speech broadcast live on national television that the decision to build these nuclear power stations was to diversify Egypt's energy resources and preserve the country's oil and gas reserves for coming generations.
"I announce before you Egypt's position to prepare the program for building several nuclear power stations. We believe that energy security is a major part of building the future for this country and an integral part of Egypt's national security system," Mubarak said at a ceremony inaugurating the second phase of construction of an electrical power plant north of Cairo.
Mubarak said he would re-establish the Supreme Council for the Peaceful Purposes of Nuclear Power, which would be in charge of the nuclear program. He also said Egypt would seek the help of its "international partners" and the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in building the nuclear power plants.
Last year, Mubarak's son, Gamal, called for Egypt to revive plans for a nuclear program that was publicly shelved in the aftermath of the 1986 accident at the Soviet nuclear plant in Chernobyl.
A committee was formed to study the program's possibilities, and the U.S ambassador said Washington would be willing to help its Mideast ally develop a peaceful program.
At the time, Hassan Yunis, the minister of electricity and energy, said Egypt could have an operational nuclear power plant within 10 years.
Egypt has conducted nuclear experiments on a very small scale for the past four decades, but they have not included the key process of uranium enrichment, according to the IAEA.
Earlier this year, former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said he supported Egypt's ambitions but said it would be at least a decade before Cairo could launch a nuclear program and urged Egypt to sign additional protocols allowing for greater inspection oversight.
Iran's progress in building its nuclear program had sparked a rush among other Middle East countries to look at programs of their own to diversify and expand their energy resources.
Yemen's government in September signed an agreement with Houston-based Powered Corporation to build nuclear power plants over the next 10 years to generate electricity. Jordan, several Gulf Arab countries and Turkey have also announced that they were interested in developing peaceful nuclear programs.
But the rush has also raised the possibility of a dangerous proliferation of nuclear technology in the volatile region. The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the claims and says its program is for peaceful purposes including developing electricity.