By Saliou Samb
Conakry - Guinea will start talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency on a nuclear energy programme after the discovery of uranium this month, becoming the latest African state seeking a nuclear solution to power shortages.
The poor West African nation announced at the start of August that Australian miner Murchison United had discovered commercially viable deposits of uranium at a jungle site at Firawa, some 600 kilometres (370 miles) east of the capital.
"To favour research and development in the area of alternative energy ... the government authorises the foreign affairs ministry ... to start talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency," government spokesperson Justin Morel Junior told state television late on Wednesday.
As well as nuclear power, Junior said President Lansana Conte's government was interested in using uranium in agriculture, medicine and industry.
Uranium prices have quadrupled over the last two years as many countries have turned to nuclear power as a means of reducing their carbon footprint amid concerns over global warming and emissions targets set under the Kyoto Protocol.
Guinea President Lansana Conte, a chain-smoking septuagenarian who has ruled the former French colony since a 1984 military coup, has given uranium exploration contracts to two other companies, Nova Energy and Contico.
Mineral-rich Guinea, which was rocked by violent union protests against Conte's government at the start of 2007, contains a third of the world's proven reserves of bauxite, the raw material for aluminium.
Many African countries have expressed interest in atomic fuel to alleviate worsening power shortages across the world's poorest continent, which are hobbling economic development and holding back living standards.
In June, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni - whose country recently discovered uranium - told the leaders of the G8 industrialised nations that Africa needed nuclear energy to meet its burgeoning power demands.
South Africa is currently sub-Saharan Africa's only nuclear energy producer. It aims to raise the share of atomic power in its energy mix to 15 percent from 6 percent as it struggles to meet the demands of a booming urban population.
In north Africa, Algeria recently signed a nuclear cooperation accord with the United States, while Libya inked a similar deal with France last month. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, meanwhile, has expressed his determination to build a nuclear reactor before his term ends in 2012.
Africa was the world's leading producer of uranium 30 years ago and it currently accounts for around 20 percent of global output, after top producer Australia. Intelligence agencies have raised concerns about the radioactive mineral, particularly in war-torn states like Democratic Republic of Congo, being used by rogue states or terrorist organisations. - Reuter