updated 8/1/2006 3:02:05 PM ET 2006-08-01T19:02:05

Nigeria’s president has pledged his oil-rich but infrastructure-poor West African nation will build a nuclear power plant within 12 years.

Despite being Africa’s leading oil producer and the fifth biggest supplier of crude to the United States, most of Nigeria’s 130 million people remain deeply impoverished. Blackouts are common in major cities and few rural areas have steady access to electricity.

“Today ... marks day one in the timeline of our national nuclear electricity program,” President Olusegun Obasanjo said Monday in the capital, Abuja, at the inauguration of the Board of the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, a state nuclear advisory body.

Obasanjo said any nuclear capacity Nigeria develops would be used for peaceful purposes. He asked the Justice Ministry to draft legislation governing the use of nuclear technologies.

“We are unequivocally committed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” Obasanjo said.

However, analysts said existing systems may have to be upgraded before Nigeria could benefit from a nuclear plant.

“There’s not a lot of point generating power you can’t distribute,” said Simon James, a spokesman for the London-based Nuclear Industry Association.

According to the U.S.-government funded Energy Information Administration, Nigeria’s power plants are operating well below capacity due to a combination of poor maintenance and low water levels at hydropower stations.

Even in the exclusive enclave of Victoria Island in wealthy Lagos city, slashed power lines dangle from rooftops and telephone poles have collapsed in the main street.

Nigeria’s energy consumption has more than doubled since 1980, but only an estimated 40 percent of the population has access to electricity.

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