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Egypt to build nuclear power plants to meet energy needs

CAIRO - President Hosni Mubarak announced yesterday that Egypt, which lacks the oil reserves of some of its Middle East neighbors, would build several nuclear power plants to meet rising energy demands.

The statement was made in a nationally televised address and seemed to have twin purposes: overhaul an energy policy to keep pace with economic growth and support his son, Gamal, who has stressed the need for nuclear power and who many analysts regard as a front-runner to succeed the 79-year-old president.

"We believe that energy security is a major part of building the future of this country and an integral part of Egypt's national security system," Mubarak said in remarks at an electrical power plant under construction outside Cairo. "We have to face the fact that oil and gas are not renewable energy sources. And we also have to admit that we are facing a great challenge to meet increasing consumption."

The president said the program would seek the backing and help of the United Nations's International Atomic Energy Agency and countries such as the United States, which gives Cairo nearly $2 billion annually in military and economic aid.

Egypt's nuclear announcement comes as Washington has imposed new economic sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, which the Bush administration says is seeking atomic weapons to destabilize the region. Tehran says its program is for civilian purposes only.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would not object to Egypt's program as long as Cairo adhered to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines.

Energy officials estimate that at current production rates Egypt's oil and gas reserves will dwindle in less than 50 years.

Mubarak's remarks came days before the main political convention for his ruling National Democratic Party. In 2006, the president's son, a Western-educated businessman, addressed the conference and called for reviving the country's nuclear energy policy.

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