CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Monday that his government is carrying out initial studies into starting a nuclear energy program.
Chavez brought up the issue during a news conference, saying the South American country needs an atomic energy program.
"We're taking on the project of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and they aren't going to stop us," Chavez said. "We need it and we're carrying out the first studies."
Chavez is a close ally of Iran and has defended the Iranian nuclear program, saying he is sure Iran is not making atomic weapons in spite of U.S. and European suspicions.
He has mentioned plans for an atomic energy program previously. It remains unclear how quickly he intends to pursue the program.
Chavez brought up the issue while referring to the case of a physicist and his wife in New Mexico who are accused by U.S. authorities of offering to help develop a nuclear weapon in contacts with an undercover U.S. agent posing as a representative of the Venezuelan government.
"They detained some scientist professors, I think Argentines, and then I was ready to respond when I saw that a government spokesman came out there saying that no, no, there is no evidence," Chavez said.
The U.S. government is not alleging Venezuela or anyone working for it sought U.S. secrets in the case.
Chavez brought up the case as an example of some of the claims his leftist government has to contend with.
"They invent so many things," he said. "The fact they say there is no evidence doesn't mean they aren't going to find it tomorrow, or fabricate it ... that Venezuela is making an atomic bomb."
He called that idea preposterous, saying: "Who in Venezuela could take on a project of that type? Who? We aren't going to take it on."