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Cablegate: Tunisia: Nuclear Energy Plans

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTU #1250/01 3591738
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241738Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5848
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS TUNIS 001250

SENSITVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG (NADI AND HAYES)
STATE PASS USTR (BURKHEAD) AND USAID (MCCLOUD)
USDOC FOR ITA/MAC/ONE (NATHAN MASON), ADVOCACY CTR (TABINE), AND
CLDP (TEJTEL AND MCMANUS)
CASABLANCA FOR FCS (ORTIZ)
CAIRO FOR FINANCIAL ATTACHE (SEVERENS)
LONDON AND PARIS FOR NEA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ENRG EAID EFIN ETRD TS
SUBJECT: TUNISIA: Nuclear Energy Plans

REF A. STATE 127423
B. TUNIS 1193

1. (U) This message is in response to Ref A request for Civil
Nuclear Trade Initiative related information. The bulk of the
information was acquired during the November 18 - 20, 2008 visit of
Special Envoy for Nuclear Non-Proliferation, Jackie Wolcott (Ref
B).

-------------------------
Nuclear Development Plans
-------------------------

2. (U) GOT officials explained to visiting Special Envoy Jackie
Wolcott that they are beginning to look at developing a domestic
civilian nuclear energy program. The nascent nuclear regulatory
commission is developing legislation through which the GOT will
assign responsibility and authority over the national civilian
nuclear program to various departments within the government. The
public utility, STEG, confirmed that the GOT aims to bring a
nuclear-powered energy plant online by 2020 to 2023. To that end,
STEG is preparing a feasibility study on the future nuclear power
plant location.

-----------
Motivations
-----------

3. (SBU) Tunisia is a net importer of energy and fuel, and therefore
is dependent on its neighbors. According to representatives from
STEG, Tunisia imports roughly 60 percent of its natural gas for
electricity generation from neighboring Algeria. STEG
representatives explained that President Ben Ali wants to mitigate
this energy dependency. To achieve this goal, the GOT is actively
seeking to develop alternative energy solutions. Tunisia has
experimented with wind power generation and solar panels are
beginning to be used to power residential water heaters. However as
energy demand increases, the GOT is increasingly drawn to nuclear
power. The General Manager of STEG explained that the confluence of
sustained high oil/fuel prices, combined with improved safety
ratings on nuclear technology, had created a window of opportunity
for nuclear energy.

---------
Financing
---------

4. (SBU) During Special Envoy Wolcott's visit the GOT did not have
information to share about its financing plans for the nuclear power
plant or feasibility studies. The GOT is only looking to build one
nuclear power plant either in the northern industrial area near
Bizerte or near the industrial and port city of Sfax. At present,
the state-owned utility appears to be the most likely candidate to
manage the nuclear power plant. Key government officials involved
in the development of the nuclear energy plant include:

- Minister Lazhar Bououni, Higher Education, Scientific Research and
Technology
- Professor Azza Hamou, Director of the National Center for Radio
Protection
- Nafaa Reguigui, Deputy Director of Nuclear Applications, Center
for Nuclear Science and Technology
- Zohra Azzouz Berriche, Deputy Director Project Development, Center
for Nuclear Science and Technology
- Rabah Jerad, Deputy Managing Director, Tunisian Gas and Electric
Company,
- Mustapha Kefihali, Project Manager, Tunisian Gas and Electric
Company (Nuclear Power Plant feasibility study)

-----------
Environment
-----------

5. (SBU) The following bullets respond to questions about the
environment and available resources:

-- Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- Tunisia is developing its
nuclear regulatory commission as part of draft legislation. No
further information on this topic is available at this time.

-- Manufacturing Base -- Tunisia has a developed light
electronics-manufacturing sector, but the GOT plans to import the
majority of the needed nuclear technology. To this end, the GOT
signed an agreement with France for nuclear technology transfer and
cooperation during the spring 2008 visit of French President
Sarkozy. The GOT has also had talks on nuclear technology with
South Africa and Canada.

-- Nuclear Workforce Availability -- Tunisia admits to lacking a
well-trained nuclear work force. During Special Envoy Wolcott's
visit representatives from STEG explained that the GOT accepted an
invitation by the French government to send ten Tunisian scientists
in an exchange program to study in France. The GOT is interested in
additional programs elsewhere to increase the availability of local
experts.

-- Primary Players -- The state-owned utility expects to play a
central role in developing, building and bringing online the
proposed nuclear power plant. However, the Ministry of Higher
Education, Scientific Research and Technology has the lead in
Tunisian engagement with the IAEA.

-- Competition -- France, South Africa, and Canada have
independently met with GOT officials. On November 27 - 29, the
French Embassy hosted a conference on nuclear technology.

-----------------------
For American Businesses
-----------------------

6. (U) It is unclear when the GOT will release the tender for the
construction of the nuclear power plant. The GOT is currently
engaged in developing a feasibility study to determine the best
location for the plant. To this end, Embassy Officials offered the
GOT a meeting with the Trade Development Agency during the latter's
visit (the same week as Special Envoy Wolcott's visit) to Tunisia.
The GOT expressed interest in learning more about US nuclear
technology during Special Envoy Wolcott's visit. Areas for possible
cooperation include construction, construction management, reactor
sales, fuel cycle service provision, logistics and waste management.
GOT civilian nuclear energy plans are nascent.

-------
Comment
-------

7. (U) Tunisia signed a framework agreement of cooperation with
France in May of 2006 during President Sarkosy's visit earlier this
year. As follow up the French Embassy and several French ministries
organized a nuclear technology conference held on November 27 and 28
as one of several such events. Despite the advanced state of
Tunisian-French nuclear cooperation, the GOT expressed interest in
learning more about US technology during Special Envoy Wolcott's
visit. End Comment.


GODEC

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