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IAEA Prepares for More Nuclear Power Plants, Worldwide    

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency says it is gearing up for a global resurgence of interest in nuclear energy. These comments came Monday in Beijing, on the opening day of a three-day international ministerial-level conference on the future of nuclear power.

The head of China's Atomic Energy Agency, Wang Yiren, says his country is an appropriate choice to host the IAEA meeting on the future of nuclear energy.

Wang says China has been the world's most active country, in terms of nuclear power development.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says China has 11 reactors under construction and plans to expand its nuclear power program seven-fold by the end of the next decade.

The United Nations agency says China represents only one-quarter of the 44 units under construction around the world. Of those, more than half are concentrated in Asia, which was also home to most of the last 39 reactors built.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei says he supports an emerging country like China, in its pursuit of nuclear energy.

"China is a country that needs a huge amount of energy. China does not have its own domestic supply of energy. Import of coal and oil is expensive, [prices] fluctuating, and has a lot of problems in terms of climate change," he said. "So, it is very natural that China will have to rely on nuclear power as part of their energy mix."

ElBaradei says his agency is working on developing a system to ensure that nuclear energy is used for peaceful and not military purposes.

"One of the proposals we have been discussing is a multi-nationalization of the full cycle, which means that all enrichment, all reprocessing, that sensitive part of the fuel cycle that enables a country to develop nuclear weapons in a short span of time if they want to, would be under multi-national control," ElBaradai said.

He says he will make a proposal on the issue at an IAEA board meeting in June.

Another issue is the lack of human capital in the nuclear power industry. The head of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Angel Gurria, says worldwide concern over accidents at American and Russian nuclear power plants in the late 1970's and 1980's caused a whole generation of would-be nuclear scientists and engineers to shun the profession.

"After Three Mile Island, after Chernobyl, nobody wanted to even touch the thing. Nobody wanted to talk about it," said Gurria. "The world "nuclear" was almost out of the vocabulary."

Gurria says now is the time to "pick up and accelerate and catch up with the lag" that has been created.

He says safety is the most important priority in developing nuclear power plants and he urged countries not to make short-term compromises as they grapple with the global financial crisis. But, at the same time, he stresses his belief that, as world demand for energy continues to rise, nuclear energy should be an increasingly important part of the solution.