Merchant of Death
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A Nuclear Venezuela
Almost unnoticed in the chaos created by recent terrorist events is the nuclear agreement signed between Russia and Venezuela signed when Russian president Medvedev visited Caracas last week. His visit coincided with the arrival of Russian naval ships for joint operations with the Venezuelan navy.

The ships, in their first post-Cold War venture into Latin America, included the Peter the Great, the flagship missile cruiser of the Russian navy, and several other vessels.

Under the accord, Russia would help Venezuela build a nuclear energy plant. Joint gas projects were also approved. Military co-operation is also high on the agenda of Mr Medvedev's talks with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

None of this would be alarming if Chavez were not a known sponsor of violent and radical movements across the hemisphere, from the FARC in Colombia to the worst elements (and a small minority of the overall parties) of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the FMLN in El Salvador.

His closest allies, such as Iran and North Korea, are rogue nations who have repeatedly lied and failed to abide by international nuclear agreements.

Having already spent $4.4 billion on Russian weapons in the past three years, and despite a sharp downturn in oil revenues, Chavez wants to go nuclear.

The reason he gives is electrical production as the prime peacetime use of the energy. But this raises several important questions.

The first is why, in his quest to acquire nuclear power since 2005, Chavez has insisted on involving the Iranians in the program? According to Russian press reports, the link in the new project will be made, at least indirectly.

Atomstroyexport, the same company building the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, would be the project operator in Venezuela.

The insistence on Iranian involvement in Venezuela's nuclear future had been enough to scare off both Brazil and Argentina for joint cooperative efforts. As Brazilian Ministry of Energy spokesman said in 2005,

"In the view of possible Iran participation, as President Chavez suggested, such a partnership would be risky for Brazil," he said. "Brazil is not interested in cooperating with countries that do not follow international treaties and whose nuclear programs are not monitored by competent authorities," the spokesman added.

Aside from the desire to involve Iran, several other issues stand out. The most notable is that Venezuela has a surplus of electricity and sells it to both Colombia and Brazil.

According to the Department of Energy country report on Venezuela, about 75 percent of Venezuela's electricity is generated by hydroelectric power, which slightly surpasses Venezuela's internal consumption needs. The surplus is generated by conventional thermal power, generated by locally-produced diesel and fuel oil. Venezuela is a net exporter of 25.8 billion kilowatthours (Bkwh) of electricity, primarily to Brazil, but also to Colombia.

So the rush to nuclear energy for this purpose does not seem credible.

Peaceful nuclear energy use in Latin America, as Brazil and Argentina have shown, have a place. But these are under the control of governments that are not sponsoring violence and not allied with radical Islamist regimes or other outlaw states.

The biggest danger we face is a nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorists, be they Islamists, Marxist or Fascist. Enriched uranium in the hands of Hugo Chavez will greatly exacerbate that danger.
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