9 March 2010 – Agreements between the government of France and the North African governments of Algeria, Libya and Tunisia have been signed during the past 2 years to establish frameworks for France to provide these North African governments with the expertise necessary to allow them to add nuclear power to their national energy matrices.

Egypt has had such an agreement with France for some time now – although it was dormant for a number of years, it has more recently been reactivated.

The agency responsible for implementing these assistance programmes is the French International Nuclear Agency (AFNI), which was set up in June 2008 and is an institution of the country’s Atomic Energy Commission.

According to AFNI Director, Philippe Pallier, AFNI is responsible for bilateral relations between France and countries which are starting nuclear energy programmes and it does not handle relations with countries which already have nuclear energy.

Thus, AFNI is not involved in French nuclear energy relations with South Africa.

"The main role of AFNI is to build the nuclear capacity in the partner countries," he stated.

"We do not market for French industry. French nuclear companies must market themselves. AFNI cooperates with these countries at stages when they have not yet decided whose nuclear technology they are going to use. When the time comes to build their first nuclear power plant, we no longer need to be involved."

Of the North African countries interested in AFNI assistance, Algeria and Egypt each have two research reactors, Libya has one research reactor, and Tunisia has none. Research reactors are small and do not generate electricity.

"AFNI identifies competencies that these new nuclear [energy] countries already have, and what they lack," he explained. "We coordinate French nuclear activities in the new partner country. We have access to the all-French [civil nuclear] competencies. We mobilise people from across the French nuclear industry. Assistance is set up according to each partner country’s needs."

AFNI is a governmental organisation and not a company and is run on a not-for-profit basis. It is not an aid agency – the partner country, not France, pays for AFNI’s services. "The partner country places an order with AFNI and will pay us, and we then subcontract to other companies [to access their expertise]," clarified Pallier.

Algeria and Libya are at the very beginning of the cooperation process and have not yet made specific requests for assistance yet.

Egypt and Tunisia are more advanced in the process. Egypt is seeking help in the training of personnel in the nuclear energy field. Although it signed the framework agreement with France in April 2009, Tunisia has already made specific requests to France, apparently focused on matters regarding nuclear energy infrastructure. AFNI has responded with proposals and is awaiting Tunisian agreement.

All AFNI agreements are ratified by the European nuclear agency Euratom and all are in compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency regulations and requirements. AFNI is also involved in agreements with Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.