Energy

Algeria Turns To Russia For Nuclear Power, Terrorists Rejoice

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Diplomats from Russia and Algeria will meet later this week to work out plans to construct a nuclear reactor in the North African country, despite the risk of nuclear materials falling into the hands of Islamic State-affiliated terrorists.

The potential deal  includes “the possibility of building a Russian-designed nuclear power plant in the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, development of Algeria’s nuclear infrastructure, and non-energy use of nuclear technology, for instance, in medicine,” Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, told the Algerian newspaper L’Expression in an interview published Sunday.

Algeria has serious issues with terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — a group of Islamist militants aimed to overthrow the Algerian government and create an Islamic state. AQIM is designated as a terrorist organization by U.S. officials. The group even pledged allegiance to ISIS Monday.

The proposed Algerian reactors would not produce weapons-grade plutonium, but materials from them could be used to create dirty bombs.

A dirty bomb combines radioactive material with conventional explosives that could contaminate the local area with high radiation levels for long periods of time and cause mass panic. ISIS has expressed interest in stealing radioactive material for a dirty bomb — though it would be millions of times weaker than an actual nuclear device.

Despite the risk of terrorism, Sergey Kiriyenko, the director general of the Russian government-owned nuclear company Rosatom, and  Youcef Yousfi, Algeria’s energy minister, signed an intergovernmental agreement to build such reactors last September. Rosatom will help Algeria design, build and operate the nuclear reactors, but claims all nuclear material will only be used for peaceful purposes.

Algeria has been planning to build a nuclear reactor since 2009 and intends to complete construction by 2020.

Algeria has previously signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, China, Argentina, Chile and the U.S., and the country has operated two very small nuclear reactors built by China and Argentina for research purposes since the 1990s. Neither research reactor is large enough to provide significant amounts of electricity to the country.

Russian and Algeria diplomats will also discuss the joint exploration and mining of Algerian uranium deposits at the meeting.

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