MAY 3, 2010: Iran Urges Country to Go Nuclear, Support Its Cause at the UN

Iran Urges Country to Go Nuclear, Support Its Cause at the UN
SOURCE: The East African
By David Malingha Doya

Nairobi — For all the controversy that surrounds its relationship with Iran, Uganda is gaining a lot. For one, it has been accorded a second opinion on national strategic questions like building an oil refinery, and using nuclear energy -- both go against the advice from the West.

A Cabinet minister who sought anonymity told The EastAfrican that among influential countries in the petroleum industry, it is only Iran that advised Uganda to build an oil refinery, despite many current producers' opposition to its admission into "their" club.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's counsel to President Museveni when he visited Tehran came at a time when most consultants from major oil companies, and representatives from governments especially from the West were advising Uganda to export crude oil, arguing that the country did not have a market because of long-term contractual obligations with existing suppliers or would find it hard to ensure quality.

"After we announced plans to build an oil refinery, they flocked in with designs and proposals, which got us thinking that they are simply selfish," said the minister.

According to the minister, Iran warned that if a country chose to export crude oil, it would be vulnerable to the so-called oil curse because a lot of money that would have been got from selling a refined product and byproducts would be lost.

In turn, Iran would get Uganda's vote -- as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council -- against another round of nuclear sanctions that the West wants imposed on Iran, and to import uranium from Uganda for enrichment.

However this is not a given, after President Museveni confessed to naivety on the issue of additional sanctions on Tehran, thereby gaining time to decide on the matter.

President Museveni said that he is still a "student" in the matter of sanctions and has listened to both UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and now President Ahmedinejad, so he is taking time to study both versions of the story, and will later engage other African nations before announcing a position.

Secondly, President Ahmedinejad is tapping into President Museveni's ambitions of rapidly boosting energy generation in Uganda based on nuclear power, following discovery of uranium in the country. Uranium enrichment has put Iran at loggerheads with the West, which is accusing Tehran of plans to make a nuclear bomb under the guise of electricity generation.

President Ahmadinejad said that the cost of producing 1,000MW of electricity by burning fossil fuels is 10 times more than using nuclear to produce the same amount of energy.

"They (Western countries and their allies) want to monopolise nuclear energy and weapons. We think it is the right of all nations to use nuclear energy," he said.

This caught President Museveni's ear given that he has always talked about increasing the amount of electricity generated in the country as a core strategy of reducing the cost of doing business, thereby improving Uganda's competitiveness to attract investment.

Uganda produces about 550MW of electricity only, and the energy potential on the part of R. Nile in the country is 5,000MW.

"President Ahmadinejad gave a good comparison of generating energy using fuel and then nuclear. So no country should monopolise use of nuclear energy," President Museveni said.

Prior to this, some consultants from Canada had told the government that they would need about $10 billion to develop a nuclear energy plant in 10 to 15 years. A similar amount was needed to train scientists to manage it.