US and Chile sign nuclear deal amid Japan fears

Sebastian Pinera Sebastian Pinera is to welcome Barack Obama to Chile early next week

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The United States has signed a long-awaited nuclear accord with Chile despite growing misgivings about the safety of nuclear power in Chile.

The Chilean government has stressed the deal was about training nuclear engineers and not building a reactor.

But it comes amid fears over a radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan following last week's huge earthquake.

Chile suffered its own devastating earthquake last year.

Many environmental groups in Chile have criticised the decision to invest more in nuclear energy as other countries are scaling back their nuclear plans.

'Closed doors'

The deal was due to be signed by President Barack Obama in a high profile ceremony with his Chilean counterpart, Sebastian Pinera, on his visit to Chile early next week.

But the agreement was signed behind closed doors by Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno and US ambassador to Chile Alejandro Wolff.

Mr Moreno reiterated that Chile is not able to produce nuclear energy.

"Chile is not in a condition to have nuclear energy and what has happened in Japan has done nothing more than underline that situation," he said.

But it comes after Chile signed a similar nuclear agreement with France last month.

Environmental groups in Chile are concerned that the government appears to be pursuing a nuclear agenda despite moves elsewhere in the world to review nuclear plans.

Earlier this week, Germany ordered its oldest nuclear plants to be shut down for urgent safety checks.

The Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, also announced he was suspending a nuclear deal with Russia following the disaster in Japan.

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