Bolivia is preparing to take the first steps this year to develop an atomic program and become a producer of electricity using nuclear power, a Bolivian Nuclear Science and Technology Institute, or IBTEN, official said.

"Bolivia has very long-term plans to build a nuclear plant to generate electricity," IBTEN adviser Hernan Vera told Efe at the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, headquarters in Austria's capital.

Vera represented Bolivia last week at an IAEA information meeting on the development of nuclear infrastructure for countries with atomic ambitions.

The South American country must first train nuclear technology professionals, change its laws to favor nuclear power plants and develop applications for atomic energy in other fields, such as medicine and the environment, Vera said.

"Bolivia's nuclear plan does not just focus on the production of electricity, we also want to get up to date on medical technology, such as radiotherapy, in the mining industry and hydrology," the IBTEN official said.

The financial challenges posed by the development of a nuclear industry for Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in South America, will be "very great," Vera said.

Bolivia's nuclear efforts have the full support of the government, the IBTEN official said.

President Evo Morales said on Jan. 22 that the development of a nuclear energy industry was a "strategic priority" for Bolivia.

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