Bolivian president Evo Morales said on 19 November that he wanted the nuclear research centre planned for the city of El Alto, near La Paz, to be the biggest in South America.

He made the remarks while inspecting the site selected for the facility, which will use Russian technology. Russia's ambassador to Bolivia, Alexey Sazonov, and a delegation of visiting Russian technicians accompanied Morales during the inspection of site -- a 15-hectare area that the Central Bank will transfer to the government.

The research centre, to be completed in four years once the deal with the contractor is signed, is projected to cost $300m and will be equipped with a cyclotron for use in medical research and treatment, a nuclear research reactor and a gamma irradiation plant.

The centre is part of the government's peaceful nuclear energy programme, which was announced in 2014, and which has the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The government decided to build the centre in El Alto after residents of the capital's Mallasilla district opposed an earlier plan to site the facility in their neighbourhood, citing concerns about radiation.

Residents in the District 8, the impoverished area of El Alto where the centre is to be built, have welcomed the plans.

Last October, Bolivia's Ministry of Hydrocarbon and Energy and Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation for the peaceful uses of atomic energy. As well as construction of the research centre, the memorandum covered application of radioisotopes and radiation technologies in industry, medicine, agriculture; training and personnel education, assistance in creation and development of infrastructure for the management and regulation of Bolivian nuclear programme, and consultations on the possibility of the construction of nuclear power plants based on of Russian design.

President Morales said in October 2014 that Bolivia would invest more than $2bn in the development of nuclear energy over the next decade. He said the nuclear energy programme will "streamline and strengthen the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, in addition to improving food preservation, seeds, soil and pest control with the installation of an irradiation plant."

However, the government has ruled out pursuing uranium production after consultations with German and French experts and decided to focus instead on the industrial development of its vast lithium reserves. Instead Bolivia will instead buy uranium from France, Canada and Australia. Bolivia's last uranium mine closed in 1984.

Date: Monday, 23 November 2015
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