France to help Morocco's nuclear energy drive
France signed a cooperation accord with Morocco on Friday to help the north African country advance its plans to build a nuclear power plant.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the agreement was "not a commercial deal to build a nuclear reactor" but rather a "framework accord that will help Morocco prepare its entry into the field of nuclear energy."
The agreement was signed during a visit to France of Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi.
Contrary to its neighbour Algeria, Morocco does not have oil and gas reserves that it could tap into to meet its energy needs, but it does have phosphates that contain uranium.
Morocco plans to open negotiations next year on building its first nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to be up and running between 2022 and 2024.
"We have already opened up venues for renewable energy, solar and wind power. We had one step left -- that was nuclear," said the Moroccan prime minister who was due to meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy later Friday.
Fillon made clear that France will be making a bid to build the Moroccan reactor.
"During the second stage, France will naturally make proposals given the excellence of its technology and its firms," he said.
France has the world's second largest network of nuclear reactors and generates a greater proportion of its own electricity through nuclear power than any other economy -- around 75 percent of its needs.
Sarkozy has made the export of nuclear technology a priority of its trade policy although delays in the construction of a reactor in Finland have harmed France's nuclear giant Areva.
Standard & Poor's said this week it had lowered its rating on Areva by two notches over the delays.
© 2010 AFP