The International Atomic Energy Agency will help Ecuador explore for uranium and study the possibility of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, its director said on Tuesday.
Mohamed ElBaradei said the Vienna-based UN agency has included Ecuador in "a regional uranium exploration project" as the Andean nation seeks energy security through the development of alternative energy sources.
He did not elaborate. But Ecuador's government said in a statement that the IAEA had approved seven projects for 2009-2011 with the agency's technical cooperation worth $1.1 million aimed at increasing the use of nuclear technology in medicine, agriculture and other fields.
Ecuador currently uses nuclear technology exclusively in medicine, but President Rafael Correa hopes to resume efforts to locate and mine uranium, which the Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy said in a November document is believed to exist in the country's south.
Argentina and Brazil are the only South American nations with nuclear energy programs. Argentina is a regional leader in nuclear power generation while Brazil, which has the world's sixth-largest uranium reserves and Latin America's largest nuclear power industry, intends to export enriched uranium.
ElBaradei met on Tuesday with Vice President Lenin Moreno in Quito to discuss nuclear energy issues.
The IAEA chief applauded US President Barack Obama for extending an olive branch to Iran and emphasizing diplomacy as a means toward resolving the standoff between Tehran and the West over its nuclear program.
Obama last week signaled a willingness to speak directly with Iran about the dispute, but Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rebuffed the US president outreach.
"Obama is talking about direct negotiation without preconditions based on mutual respect, and he's extended his hand to the Iranian people," ElBaradei said. "I hope the it's reciprocated by the Iranian people."
He called Obama's overture "very important."