French green groups and opposition politicians Thursday attacked plans to build a French reactor in Libya for water desalination as a perilous masquerade that would encourage Muammar Qadhafi to get a nuclear bomb.But an official with Franceâ€™s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) insisted that international safeguards imposed after Libya scrapped its military nuclear programme would prevent any proliferation, and other experts agreed.
Sortir du Nucleaire (Get Out of Nuclear) said the official reason for the reactor was a â€œdeceptionâ€ as the civilian and military uses of nuclear technology were â€œindissociableâ€. â€œDelivering civilian nuclear energy to Libya would amount to helping the country, sooner or later, to acquire nuclear weapons,â€ it said.
Rich in oil and gas, Libya is â€œvery amply self-sufficient in energyâ€, the group argued. â€œIf it wishes to diversify, it should logically give priority to solar energy. The country enjoys remarkable levels of sunshine all year long.â€ A memorandum on building the new reactor was signed as French President Nicolas Sarkozy held talks with Libyan leader Qadhafi on Wednesday, a day after Tripoli freed six foreign medics. France played a key role, along with EU officials, in securing their release.
Greenpeace France said the deal â€œposes an enormous problem in terms of nuclear proliferationâ€ and branded it as â€œin keeping with the French policy of irresponsible export of nuclear technologyâ€. Greenpeace pointed out that previous French presidents had signed nuclear deals with the former shah of Iran, Iraqâ€™s Saddam Hussein and with South Africa during the apartheid era.
â€œOfficially, the reactor being sold to Libya is to desalinate seawater to help the countryâ€™s supplies of drinking water. Who are they kidding?â€ asked Frederic Marillier, in charge of Greenpeaceâ€™s energy campaign.
The opposition Socialist Party asked: â€œIs it not a bit soon to be throwing ourselves into Qadhafiâ€™s arms and giving him our international endorsement?â€ â€œCivilian nuclear [technology] can be used sooner or later to develop military applications,â€ it said.
The Green Party accused Sarkozy of â€œboundless cynicismâ€ rooted in the risk of striking a nuclear deal with an â€œundemocratic stateâ€.Â The CEAâ€™s Simon Nisan, who is in charge of nuclear-powered desalination projects, said Wednesdayâ€™s deal followed the signature in March 2006 of an agreement for bilateral cooperation in nuclear research and technology.
That accord focuses primarily on a nuclear research centre at Tajura, near Tripoli, whose reactor was supplied by the Soviet Union in 1979.
Under a pilot scheme, the Tajura reactor would be used to power a plant to desalinate seawater.
France would also draw up a study for building a reactor at another site, also for desalination, said Nisan.
Nisan added that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) controls made it â€œalmost impossibleâ€ to divert the technology to military use.
â€œThe controls are so tight that you donâ€™t have the right to remove the fuel without the presence of IAEA inspectors,â€ he said.