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Britain joins U.S.-led nuclear power club

Britain has signed up to a U.S.-sponsored club of countries that want to see more nuclear power plants built globally while keeping atomic weapons in the hands of a few.

Britain became the 21st member of the Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), which aims to keep a firm grip on technologies that can be used to make nuclear weapons, when UK industry minister John Hutton signed up on Tuesday.

"The UK shares in the vision of improved non-proliferation and nuclear waste management and recognises the real benefits of initiatives such as GNEP," Hutton said in a statement issued before the signing in Washington.

"With a new generation of nuclear energy now set to be part of the UK's future energy mix, the UK is in position to play a role in this global initiative."

The British government is in talks with some of Europe's largest utilities about building a new generation of atomic power plants in the country and Hutton is expected to meet U.S.-based companies interested in taking part during his visit.

The U.S. sees the GNEP, which was initiated by President George W. Bush in 2006, as way to share expertise in waste management to countries hoping to build their first reactors, while keeping a grip on the technologies and knowledge that could be used to develop atomic weapons.

"This important addition provides great momentum for GNEP and will help advance its important goals of expanding clean, safe nuclear power development while reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation," U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in a statement.

All but one of GNEP's original members -- China, France, Russia and the United States -- have nuclear weapons, with only Japan limiting its nuclear activity to energy. Britain also has nuclear weapons.

The U.S. suspects Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at making nuclear weapons. Tehran says it only wants nuclear power is not on the waiting list to join GNEP.

Algeria and Saudi Arabia, which have also shown an interest in nuclear power as a way of boosting oil exports, are not lining up to join the group. Italy, where nuclear power has been outlawed since the late 1980s, joined last November.

Senegal in west Africa became the 20th member of the group at the start of February, while Canada, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Bulgaria, Ghana, Hungary, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Ukraine joined last year.

Other candidate or observer countries include Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Morocco and Turkey.

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