December 15, 2009 / 6:16 AM / in 8 years

IAEA head highlights Nigeria's nuclear ambitions

ABUJA (Reuters) - The new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) used his first official foreign trip on Monday to spotlight Nigeria’s nuclear energy ambitions, keeping quiet on other international issues.

Yukiya Amano met Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss Nigerian plans to develop its first nuclear power plant, which could provide much needed electricity to sub-Saharan Africa’s second biggest economy.

Amano also discuss cooperation with Nigeria on cancer therapy but did not publicly comment on any international matters.

Diplomats and analysts say the trip is the first stage of Amano’s efforts to heal differences between mainly Western industrialised countries and developing nations, a split which has hampered a united response to Iran’s nuclear programme.

“I made Nigeria my first port of call because Nigeria is a very important country in Africa,” Amano told reporters after meeting briefly with Jonathan in the capital Abuja.

“We discussed the future co-operation between your country and IAEA, especially on the infrastructure support for Nigeria’s nuclear power programme. We also discussed co-operation in cancer therapy,” he said.

Amano will visit a nuclear technology centre and hospital around Abuja on Tuesday to highlight peaceful uses of the atom.

Although the country is Africa’s biggest energy producer, most Nigerians go without mains electricity for weeks, leaving neighbourhoods without private generators in darkness every night and heightening frustration among its 140 million people.

The world’s eighth largest oil exporter has spent billions of dollars over the past decade to resolve its power crisis, but residents have seen little improvement due to mismanagement and corruption.

Nigerian Science and Technology Minister Alhassan Bako Zaku said Russia agreed to help Nigeria’s nuclear ambitions, which were still at an early stage.

“We are still on stage one. After this, the next stage is to start building the nuclear plant and we have started training our staff for it,” he said.

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