Civil nuclear power is nearly always used for generating electricity, and to use it to remove the salt from seawater on a commercial scale would be practically a "first."
The Soviet Union did build an experimental desalination reactor in Kazakhstan in 1973, but that has remained unique, apart from several small desalinators used in Japan to supply fresh water to cool their own nuclear reactors.
The French deal comes amid the goodwill generated by Libya's release of six Bulgarian medical staff imprisoned in the country for eight years.
To secure the release, the European Union said it will fully normalize relations with Tripoli, and sign a cooperation agreement.
Rehabilitated 'Rogue State'
But is it wise for France to offer nuclear technology to Libya so soon after Libya has returned to the international community after years of isolation as a "rogue state"?
Only in 2003 did Libya renounce terrorism and say it was abandoning its long-held ambition to acquire nuclear weapons.
Analyst Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies sees no imminent danger in such cooperation. He describes Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's decision to abandon all weapons of mass destruction programs as "courageous."
"There has been very good cooperation by the Libyans and there is no reason to doubt the 'bona fides' of their halt to weapons of mass destruction programs. So there are no longer any major outstanding concerns about Libya's intentions," Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick further says it is important for the world to see that Libya's decision to return to the international community has produced benefits.
"The Libyan deal should be the model for persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, and indeed for persuading Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability," Fitzpatrick said.
One of the advantages of using nuclear power to distill fresh water from salt water lies in the fact that the process does not produce the gases that are blamed for global warming. Desalination is an energy-intensive process, and conventional plants therefore use large quantities of polluting fossil fuels.
However, it remains an expensive process, whatever power source it employs, and therefore it is only considered suitable for producing drinking water, and for domestic and industrial water uses. Large quantities of water for irrigation and agricultural use is beyond its scope, at least for the moment.
Nuclear-fuel pellets being produced in Kazakhstan (TASS)
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