French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday urged developing countries to embrace nuclear energy and rich lenders to help pay for it, but stood firmly against countries that "cheat" and use the technology to make weapons.
"We need nuclear energy" to meet global goals for fighting and slowing climate change, Sarkozy said in opening an international conference in Paris on the future of nuclear power.
He wants France, which is reliant on atomic reactors for a large majority of its electricity, to lead a global nuclear expansion.
But amid fears of nuclear proliferation and questions about Iran's nuclear program, Sarkozy said the international community should be "steadfast in its opposition to those countries that violate the standards for collective security."
The United States and allies including France suspect Iran's uranium enrichment activities are aimed at building weapons, while Tehran says they are only for peaceful nuclear energy. Iran has defied U.N. calls to halt enrichment and faced three rounds of international sanctions.
"Someone who cheats does not have the same rights as an honest person," Sarkozy said.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso singled out Iran and North Korea, warning that their nuclear activities "present security risks for the global community."
"All countries have the right to civilian nuclear energy. ... But for Europe, respect of the strictest safety, security and nonproliferation rules is not negotiable," he said.
Barroso urged the rest of the world to join new EU nuclear security rules that make violations punishable by law. In 2009, the EU agreed with the International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear safety norms on such issues as disposal of waste and inspections, and made these legally binding across the 27-nation bloc.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, also at the Paris conference, echoed Sarkozy's call for expanding "safe and secure" nuclear energy.
"Nuclear reactors should not only be reserved for developed countries but should be accessible to all," he told the conference.
Sarkozy dismissed the "egotistic" rich-country perception that poor countries don't have the right to nuclear technology because they can't be trusted to keep it safe.
"That is closing the door to progress and a better life to those who have nothing," he said. He said nuclear energy should be "the cement of a new international solidarity."
He said international financial institutions should play a key role in financing nuclear projects.
"I do not understand and I do not accept the ostracism of nuclear energy by international financing," he said, urging the World Bank and other global lenders to help fund nuclear investments. The enormous costs of building a nuclear plant have deterred many small countries from pursuing nuclear power.
Sarkozy called for an "enhanced" International Atomic Energy Agency with broader powers and with a kind of scoreboard to rate international reactors on safety. Sarkozy also proposed creating an elite training school in France for the next generation of international nuclear scientists.
His recommendations come at a time when the Obama administration has called nuclear power a key part of comprehensive energy legislation in the United States, where nuclear reactors have been halted since the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979.
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