Ben-Eliezer signals plans to develop nuclear power

Israel may turn to nuclear power to widen its energy sources, amid concern world oil reserves are dwindling and prices rising, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer indicated Tuesday. Nuclear power would complement the country's efforts to rely less on petroleum, Ben-Eliezer said at the Herzilya Conference. Israel has no diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries that are among the world's biggest oil producers and control its biggest reserves. "Considering Israel's special circumstances, it isn't enough to rely only on conventional methods," Ben-Eliezer said. "Rather, we must develop non-conventional methods of producing energy." A spokesman for the Infrastructure Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed by telephone that Ben-Eliezer was referring to nuclear power. Except for natural gas reserves it has developed off its Mediterranean coast since 1999, Israel imports all its fossil fuel. It has nuclear research facilities and is believed to have developed weapons, but it doesn't have any nuclear power plants. As part of its energy-diversification strategy, Israel signed an agreement in 2005 with Egypt for state-owned Israel Electric Corp. to import $2.5 billion of Egyptian natural gas over 15 years. IEC will import 1.7 billion cubic meters of Egyptian gas annually. Israel is also seeking to buy gas from reserves developed by BG Plc off the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. Israel's Infrastructure Ministry is preparing for a tender for the construction of a natural gas liquefaction facility, which would allow it to import gas by ship from elsewhere, Ben-Eliezer said. Turkey said in December it was holding talks with Eni Spa of Italy and Turkey's Calik Holding to begin construction of three pipelines carrying oil, natural gas and water to Israel from Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Construction of the undersea route may begin in the fourth quarter, a spokesman for Turkey's Energy Ministry said at the time. Eni at the time denied involvement in the project. Ben-Eliezer said Israel could use an existing pipeline that runs from its Mediterranean port of Ashkelon to Eilat on the Red Sea to re-export oil to the Far East. "China, Japan, and India have already displayed interest," he said. (Bloomberg)