TO O Japan will begin discussions next year to decide on a so-called energy mix for the next few decades, including the percentage of electricity to be generated by nuclear power following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, the industry minister said yesterday.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will set up a committee on deciding the energy mix, or the proportion of electricity generated by various sources, and a working group to assess electricity generation costs of each source, aiming to reach a conclusion around next summer.
In a national energy policy adopted in April, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described atomic power as an important base-load power source, although the majority of people in Japan were opposed to nuclear power following the Fukushima crisis. The government also pledged to introduce renewable energy as far as possible.
Industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa told a press conference that the government will launch discussions as soon as the new year comes based on the basic energy policy, as we are moving toward restarting idled nuclear reactors and international debate on global warming is expected to accelerate toward a UN climate conference at the end of 2015.
Japan, one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, has not set a post-2020 emission target due to uncertainty over how many of its 48 commercial reactors all of which were gradually taken offline after the Fukushima meltdowns will go back online amid safety concerns.
In 2015, however, at least four reactors may go back online, with the pro- nuclear government striving to restart idled units that have cleared the regulators safety screening based on new regulations imposed after the Fukushima crisis triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami.
In fiscal 2010, 28.6 per cent of Japans total electricity supply was generated by nuclear power, 61.7 per cent by thermal power and 8.5 per cent by mega hydro power.
Miyazawa said earlier the proportion of electricity to be generated by nuclear power will be less than the level before the nuclear accident. ODO
SAFETY concerns would be the first issue to be debated when talking about the possibility of using nuclear power in Ireland, Energy Minister Alex White has said.
The use of nuclear power is banned by law and any change in that would require Dail and Seanad approval, he stressed – but he reiterated comments made in an interview with the Irish Independent in which he said that any discussion on the future of Ireland’s energy supply must include consideration of the nuclear option. He said all previous governments had a poor record of planning for future energy supply and the main issue was the country’s continued dependence on imported fossil fuels such as oil and coal. The minister admitted that there were safety concerns and said that he was not advocating the imminent use of nuclear energy. He said that, at all events, such a radical policy change would require a change to the law. Mr White promised a new energy policy document by the summer after a prolonged period of consultation with all interested parties. He urged a detailed and reasoned debate on the issue ahead of policy decisions being taken. “I’m comprehensive simply saying no debate on future energy needs can exclude any source of energy,” he told RTE radio. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is working on the long-term energy strategy. This will set out the role for conventional power generation from oil and gas; renewables including wind and energy; along with nuclear and other energy sources. The minister also said that politicians and ‘official’ Ireland had not performed well in the midst of a “crisis” about our future energy needs. He admitted that many people living in the shadow of pylons and wind turbines felt they were “victims of a policy” which was not of their making, and there was a need to work more closely with local communities. The Green Party’s energy spokesman, Cllr Ossian Smyth, said the proposal was unrealistic on many grounds, especially the ruinous cost of construction and operation. The minister’s comments about the potential use of nuclear power follows a government discussion document on energy last summer which included a suggestion that it could be “technically possible” to construct a small nuclear reactor in Ireland. It also suggested that such an installation could replace the coal-fired power station at Moneypoint, Co Clare, which is due to close in 2025.
Environmentalists and consumer groups criticized the government on Wednesday for considering lifting the ban on Japanese fish imports which has been in place since September 2013 in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
The ban was enacted because the sea water near the power plant was found to be highly contaminated. The ban is applicable to all types of fishery products from Fukushima and eight prefectures nearby.
The groups gathered in central Seoul to urge the government to re-consider its plan to resume Japanese fish imports.
“It is like giving Japan a gift at the cost of the public health. We condemn the ministry’s approach,” the groups said in a statement.
The participating groups included the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements, Hansalim, Child Save and the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. Furthermore, the groups demanded the government ban all Japanese fishery products.
The criticism came after a foreign ministry official indicated last week that the ban could be lifted soon.
“A group of experts are doing research. This year celebrates the 50th anniversary after Korea and Japan recovered its diplomatic ties. We’re working to remove an obstacle in Korea-Japan relations as soon as possible,” a ministry official said.
A lot of the participants at the demonstration were mothers and children. “I don’t want my kids to be exposed to radioactive fish in school,” said Koh Hye-jin, 34, a mother of two children. “Although numbers show it’s below the dangerous level, it’s hard to believe. No matter how small, it can be a problem when the number accumulates.” Children were also among the demonstrators.
The import ban in 2013 was imposed when experts found the sea water near the Fukushima nuclear reactors was highly contaminated.
Since then, the government runs a sample test on Japanese fisheries products on a daily basis.
Although the results have not shown any significant threat, the public continues to show their concern about the safety of Japanese fish imports.
Are we there yet? Far from it.
After plunging by $49 US a barrel since June, this year’s dramatic meltdown in oil prices isn’t over.
Watch for the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark grade of U.S. light crude, to sink to $50 US a barrel or lower before a sustained turnaround begins in the last half of 2015.
With the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) refusing to cut production and the United Arab Emirates energy minister warning that the cartel won’t blink even if oil slides to $40, the stage is set for some nasty fireworks ahead.
“We will not have a real picture about oil prices until the end of the first half of 2015,” OPEC secretary general Abdalla El-Badri told Bloomberg at a weekend conference in Dubai. Once prices settle after that, he added, OPEC will decide what “required measures” to take.
His clear message? OPEC is willing to endure further short-term pain for longer term gains. Its goal is to cap the explosive growth of U.S. shale oil production by driving down prices.
“Our expectation in OPEC is that after 2020, the oil industry in the U.S. will decline,” and it will resume its traditional reliance on crude imports from the Middle East, El-Badri said.
No wonder Alberta Premier Jim Prentice sees a big hole — amounting to $6 billion Cdn or more — in the province’s projected revenues for 2015, as the current oil “price trough” deepens. Can anyone spell budget cuts?
Of course, no one including OPEC knows precisely where the bottom will be. The estimates for WTI range from $43 (Morgan Stanley) to about $50 (Bank of America, Eurasia Group).
The exact timing is also a matter of guesswork. Investment bank Goldman Sachs is betting on a bottom by the second quarter of 2015. Eurasia, a major global energy consulting firm, expects the lows to hit in the first quarter, assuming OPEC changes its tune and U.S. shale production starts to slow.
Whatever happens, the price is sure to be well south of Friday’s close of $57.81, which marked the lowest level in five years.
Although drilling activity is already dropping off a cliff, and energy producers like ConocoPhillips and Cenovus are chopping their budgets, it will take months for production levels to adjust significantly.
Meanwhile, roughly 1.5 million barrels of surplus production is sloshing around a global oil market that consumes some 93 million barrels of crude per day, and no one is willing to give up a piece of it.
OPEC’s members, who are producing about 30.5 million barrels of crude a day now and expect demand
for their output to fall below 29 million barrels a day in 2015, hope to defend their market share at the expense of others.
Put simply, this is a colossal fight over who gets what share of the global energy pie, and so far, no one is backing down, even as share prices and currencies tank.
Here in Canada, the rout in energy stocks has been a key factor behind the decline in the loonie and the sharp pullback on the Toronto Stock Exchange, where the benchmark index now sits at 13,731.05.
That’s a full 12.5 per cent below its 2014 high, and just a hair above where it started the year. Even Canada’s usually rock-solid bank stocks are taking a hit, as worries about credit losses rise.
Unless oil prices rebound soon, some high-cost small or mid-tier producers with heavy debt loads won’t survive. While some of Alberta’s oilsands players have high- cost operations, others are profitable even at $40 oil.
Most are big enough to survive two or three weak quarters, in any case. And they aren’t the only ones feeling the heat.
Some U.S. shale oil plays also sit at the high end of the cost curve, says Scotiabank commodity guru Patricia Mohr. That includes producers in North Dakota’s prolific Bakken play and the Permian Basin of West Texas.
Internationally, the ground is shifting rapidly too. Oilrich Venezuela is in crisis, and may be forced to default on its debt.
Russia’s energy-fuelled economy, already groaning under the weight of
For those who don’t remember, oil sold for just $33 a barrel in early 2009, and in 1998, prices got down to just $8 a barrel
international sanctions due to Vladimir Putin’s adventures in eastern Ukraine, has been pushed into recession, and all but two of OPEC’s member states (Kuwait and Qatar) will face fat budget deficits at current low oil prices.
If not for its massive cash reserves, even OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia would likely have caved into pressure by now.
But it hasn’t. Instead, it and other OPEC players have continued to discount prices in Asia, the only global growth market that’s left for crude oil. The winners? Big oil importers like China and India.
The bottom line? The great Alberta oil boom of recent years has hit the pause button, and the pause is likely to last a while.
Although most forecasters expect crude prices to rebound to perhaps $75 US or more in the second half of 2015, virtually no one sees a return to $100 oil. Instead, crude could trade in the $60 to $80 range for literally years. Call it the “new noilmal.”
That said, there’s no reason to panic. Most Albertans have been through this before, and will adapt to the latest carnage.
The sharp drop in the loonie and lower discounts on Western Canada Select (WCS), Alberta’s benchmark grade — which now sells for about $47 Cdn a barrel — have provided some respite.
Meanwhile, other sectors of the provincial economy, from retailing to forestry to financial services and agriculture, are doing well, and that’s likely to continue.
According to RBC Economics, the provincial economy will grow by 2.7 per cent next year. Not great by recent Alberta standards, perhaps, but on par with the rest of the country.
Besides, Alberta is a resilient province that has survived far worse. For those who don’t remember, oil sold for just $33 a barrel in early 2009, and in 1998, prices got down to just $8 a barrel. That’s right. Eight bucks.
So it’s not as if the oilpatch hasn’t endured tough times before. It has, and it will survive this rough patch too. That’s one forecast you can bank on. firstname.lastname@example.org
New developments highlight the growing travails of the global nuclear- power industry. France — the “poster child” of atomic power — plans to cut its nuclear- generating capacity by a third by 2025 and focus instead on renewable sources, like its neighbours, Germany and Spain. As nuclear power becomes increasingly uneconomical at home because of skyrocketing costs, the U. S. and France are aggressively pushing exports, not just to India and China, but also to “nuclear newcomers,” such as the cash- laden oil sheikhdoms. Still, the bulk of the reactors under construction or planned worldwide are located in just four countries — China, Russia, South Korea and India.
Six decades after Lewis Strauss, chairman of the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission, claimed that nuclear energy would become “too cheap to meter,” nuclear power confronts an increasingly uncertain future, largely because of unfavourable economics. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2014, released last week, states: “Uncertainties continue to cloud the future for nuclear — government policy, public confidence, financing in liberalized markets, competitiveness versus other sources of generation, and the looming retirement of a large fleet of older plants.”
Heavily subsidy reliant
Nuclear power has the energy sector’s highest capital and water intensity and longest plant- construction time frame, making it hardly attractive for private investors. Plant construction time frame, with licensing approval, still averages almost a decade, as underscored by the new reactors commissioned in the past decade. The key fact about nuclear power is that it is the world’s most subsidyfattened energy industry, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations. Commercial reactors have been in operation for more than half- a- century, yet the industry still cannot stand on its own feet without major state support. Instead of the cost of nuclear power declining with the technology’s maturation — as is the case with other sources of energy — the costs have escalated multiple times.
In this light, nuclear power has inexorably been on a downward trajectory. The nuclear share of the world’s total electricity production reached its peak of 17 per cent in the late 1980s. Since then, it has been falling, and is currently estimated at about 13 per cent, even as new uranium discoveries have swelled global reserves. With proven reserves having grown by 12.5 per cent since just 2008, there is enough uranium to meet current demand for more than 100 years.
Yet, the worldwide aggregate installed capacity of just three renewables — wind power, solar power and biomass — has surpassed installed nuclear- generating capacity. In India and China, wind power output alone exceeds nuclear- generated electricity.
Before the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the global nuclear power industry — a powerful cartel of less than a dozen major state- owned or state- guided firms — had been trumpeting a global “nuclear renaissance.” This spiel was largely anchored in hope. However, the triple meltdown at Fukushima has not only reopened old safety concerns but also set in mo- tion the renaissance of nuclear power in reverse. The dual imperative for costly upgrades post- Fukushima and for making the industry competitive, including by cutting back on the munificent government subsidies, underscores nuclear power’s dimming future. It is against this background that India’s itch to import high- priced reactors must be examined. To be sure, India should ramp up electricity production from all energy sources. There is definitely a place for safe nuclear power in India’s energy mix. Indeed, the country’s domestic nuclear- power industry has done a fairly good job both in delivering electricity at a price that is the envy of western firms and, as the newest indigenous reactors show, in beating the mean global plant construction time frame.
India should actually be encouraging its industry to export its tested and reliable mid- size reactor model, which is better suited for the developing countries, considering their grid limitations. Instead, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, after making India the world’s largest importer of conventional arms since 2006, set out to make the country the world’s single largest importer of nuclear power reactors — a double whammy for Indian taxpayers, already heavily burdened by the fact that India is the only major economy in Asia that is import- dependent rather than export driven.
Critiquing India’s programme
To compound matters, the Singh government opted for major reactor imports without a competitive bidding process. It reserved a nuclear park each for four foreign firms ( Areva of France, Westinghouse and GE of the U. S., and Atomstroyexport of Russia) to build multiple reactors at a single site. It then set out to acquire land from farmers and other residents, employing coercion in some cases.
Having undercut its leverage by dedicating a park to each foreign vendor, it entered into price negotiations. Because the imported reactors are to be operated by the Indian state, the foreign vendors have been freed from producing electricity at marketable rates. In other words, Indian taxpayers are to subsidise the high- priced electricity generated.
Westinghouse, GE and Areva also wish to shift the primary liability for any accident to the Indian taxpayer so that they have no downside risk but only profits to reap. If a Fukushima- type catastrophe were to strike India, it would seriously damage the Indian economy. A recent Osaka City University study has put Japan’s Fukushima- disaster bill at a whopping $ 105 billion.
To Dr. Singh’s discomfiture, three factors put a break on his reactor- import plans — the exorbitant price of French- and U. S.- origin reactors, the accident- liability issue, and grass- roots opposition to the planned multireactor complexes. After Fukushima, the grass- roots attitude in India is that nuclear power is okay as long as the plant is located in someone else’s backyard, not one’s own. This attitude took a peculiar form at Kudankulam, in Tamil Nadu, where a protest movement suddenly flared just when the Russian- origin, twin- unit nuclear power plant was virtually complete.
India’s new nuclear plants, like in most other countries, are located in coastal regions so that these water- guzzling facilities can largely draw on seawater for their operations and not bring freshwater resources under strain. But coastal areas are often not only heavily populated but also constitute prime real estate. The risks that seaside reactors face from global warming- induced natural disasters became evident more than six years before Fukushima, when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated parts of the Madras Atomic Power Station. But the reactor core could be kept in a safe shutdown mode because the electrical systems had been installed on higher ground than the plant level.
Dr. Singh invested so such political capital in the Indo- U. S. civil nuclear agreement that much of his first term was spent in negotiating and consummating the deal. He never explained why he overruled the nuclear establishment and shut down the CIRUS research reactor — the source of much of India’s cumulative historic production of weaponsgrade plutonium since the 1960s. In fact, CIRUS had been refurbished at a cost of millions of dollars and reopened for barely two years when Dr. Singh succumbed to U. S. pressure and agreed to close it down.
Nevertheless, the nuclear accord has turned out to be a dud deal for India on energy but a roaring success for the U. S. in opening the door to major weapon sales — a development that has quietly made America the largest arms supplier to India. For the U. S., the deal from the beginning was more geostrategic in nature ( designed to co- opt India as a quasially) than centred on just energy.
Even if no differences had arisen over the accident- liability issue, the deal would still not have delivered a single operational nuclear power plant for a more than a decade for two reasons — the inflated price of westernorigin commercial reactors and grass- roots opposition. Areva, Westinghouse and GE signed Memorandums of Understanding with the state- run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited ( NPCIL) in 2009, but construction has yet to begin at any site.
India has offered Areva, with which negotiations are at an advanced stage, a power price of Rs. 6.50 per kilowatt hour — twice the average electricity price from indigenous reactors. But the state- owned French firm is still holding out for a higher price. If Kudankulam is a clue, work at the massive nuclear complexes at Jaitapur in Maharashtra ( earmarked for Areva), Mithi Virdi in Gujarat ( Westinghouse) and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh ( GE) is likely to run into grass- roots resistance. Indeed, if India wishes to boost nuclear- generating capacity without paying through its nose, the better choice — given its new access to the world uranium market — would be an accelerated indigenous programme.
Globally, nuclear power is set to face increasing challenges due to its inability to compete with other energy sources in pricing. Another factor is how to manage the rising volumes of spent nuclear fuel in the absence of permanent disposal facilities. More fundamentally, without a breakthrough in fusion energy or greater commercial advances in the area that the U. S. has strived to block — breeder ( and thorium) reactors — nuclear power is in no position to lead the world out of the fossil fuel age.
( Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.)
VIENNA (AP) — The top U.S. and Iranian diplomats searched Monday for a breakthrough in nuclear talks, their efforts complicated by crises across the Middle East and beyond that have Washington and Tehran aligned in some places but often opposed.
The state of U.S.-Iranian relations was adding a new wrinkle to the long negotiation aimed at curbing the Islamic republic’s uranium and plutonium programs.
While the two sides are arguably fighting proxy wars in Israel, Gaza and Syria, they’re talking cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, perhaps in a first, the nuclear matter is battling for full attention.
U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif spoke for about two hours around midday Monday, the second day of talks in Vienna. They gathered again in the afternoon, hoping to make progress before Sunday’s initial deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. An extension of the deadline is possible, though there are opponents of that idea on both sides.
“We are in the middle of talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran’s program,” Kerry told U.S. Embassy staff in Vienna during a break in the conversations. “It is a really tough negotiation.”
But other matters were being discussed, too, including Afghanistan, where Kerry visited before Vienna to broker a power- sharing agreement between rival presidential candidates and a full audit of their contested election.
As the two diplomats sat down Sunday, Zarif called Kerry’s Afghan mediation “extremely important” for the Afghan people and echoed the need “to ensure the national unity of Afghanistan and prevent its breakup.”
“We agree,” Kerry said. “And it’s good to begin with an agreement.”
But even as the U.S. and Iran have recently found increasing areas for cooperation, such as stemming a flow of Sunni extremists into Iraq, they remain diametrically opposed elsewhere.
The U.S-Iranian regional divide was underscored Monday as the Israeli military downed a drone launched by Gaza militants — the first such unmanned aircraft encountered since the start of the Jewish state’s offensive last week.
Suppose that a giant hydro dam had crumbled under the impact of the biggest earthquake in a century and sent a wave of water racing down some valley in northern Japan. Imagine that whole villages and towns had been swept away, and that ten thousand people were killed - an even worse death toll than that caused by the tsunami that hit the coastal towns.
Would there be a great outcry worldwide, demanding that reservoirs be drained and hydro dams shut down? Of course not. Do you think we are superstitious savages? We are educated, civilized people, and we understand the way that risk works.
Okay, another thought experiment. Suppose that three big nuclear power reactors were damaged in that same monster earthquake, leading to concerns about a meltdown and a massive release of radiation - a new Chernobyl. Everybody within a 20-km (14-mile) radius of the plant was evacuated, but in the end there were only minor leakages of radiation, and nobody was killed.
Well, that was a pretty convincing demonstration of the safety of nuclear power, wasn’t it? Well, wasn’t it? You there in the loincloth, with the bone through your nose. Why are you looking so frightened? Is something wrong?
In Germany, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against nuclear power last Saturday, and Chancellor Angela Merkel suspended her policy of extending the life of the country’s nuclear power stations until 2036.
She conceded that, following events in Japan, it was not possible to “go back to business as usual,” meaning that she may return to the original plan to close down all 17 of Germany’s nuclear power plants by 2020.
In Britain, energy secretary Chris Huhne took a more measured approach: “As Europe seeks to remove carbon based fuels from its economy, there is a long term debate about finding the right mix between nuclear energy and energy generated from renewable sources.... The events of the last few days haven’t done the nuclear industry any favours.” I wouldn’t invest in the promised new generation of nuclear power plants in Britain either.
And in the United States, Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey (Democratic), who co-sponsored the 2009 climate bill, called for hearings into the safety and preparedness of America’s nuclear plants, 23 of which have similar designs to the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.
The alleged “nuclear renaissance” of the past few years was always a bit of a mirage so far as the West was concerned.
China and India have big plans for nuclear energy, with dozens of reactors under construction and many more planned.
In the United States, by contrast, there was no realistic expectation that more than four to six new reactors would be built in the next decade even before the current excitements.
The objections to a wider use of nuclear power in the United States are mostly rational. Safety worries are a much smaller obstacle than concerns about cost and time: nuclear plants are enormously expensive, and they take the better part of a decade to license and build. Huge cost overruns are normal, and government aid, in the form of loan guarantees and insurance coverage for catastrophic accidents, is almost always necessary.
The cost of wind and solar power is steadily dropping, and the price of natural gas, the least noxious fossil-fuel alternative to nuclear power, has been in freefall. There is no need for a public debate in the United States on the desirability of more nuclear power: just let the market decide. In Europe, however, there is a real debate, and the wrong side is winning it.
The European debate has focused on shutting down existing nuclear generating capacity, not installing more of it. The German and Swedish governments may be forced by public opinion to revive the former policy of phasing out all their nuclear power plants in the near future, even though that means postponing the shut-down of highly polluting coal-fired power plants. Other European governments face similar pressures.
It’s a bad bargain. Hundreds of miners die every year digging the coal out of the ground, and hundreds of thousands of other people die annually from respiratory diseases caused by the pollution created by burning it.
In the long run, hundreds of millions may die from the global warming that is driven in large part by greenhouse emissions from coal-fired power plants. Yet people worry more about nuclear power.
It’s the same sort of mistaken assessment of risk that caused millions of Americans to drive long distances instead of flying in the months just after 9/11. There were several thousand excess road deaths, while nobody died in the airplanes that the late lamented had avoided as too dangerous. Risks should be assessed rationally, not emotionally.
And here’s the funny thing. So long as the problems at Fukushima Daiichi do not kill large numbers of people, the Japanese will not turn against nuclear power, which currently provides over 30 percent of their electricity and is scheduled to expand to 40 percent.
Their islands get hit by more big earthquakes than anywhere else on Earth, and the typhoons roar in regularly off the Pacific. They understand about risk.
War with an industrial power and nuclear technology developed under military rule does not preclude a country from enriching uranium. Just ask Argentina. As world powers reached an impasse with Iran over its nuclear work, Argentina says it will become just the 11th nation to begin large-scale enrichment of the heavy metal used for industrial, medical and energy applications. It has been producing enriched uranium on an experimental scale since the 1980s, the government told the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Buenos Aires last month. Rafael Mariano Grossi, Argentina’s international atomic energy agency ambassador, says negotiators at loggerheads in Vienna should pay more attention to cases such as his country, where scientists used nuclear research as a base to develop other technologies such as radar and satellites. “In the mid-1980s, due to financial restrictions, the domestic nuclear programme was paralysed,” says Mr Grossi, who also chairs the Nuclear Suppliers Group that guards against unfettered access to atomic materials and technology. Key for the longevity of Argentina’s nuclear programme was its ability to identify “products and expertise which were marketable”, he says. Diplomats who haggled with Iran for 16 days in Vienna were hesitant to apply lessons from Argentina’s nuclear rehabilitation following its defeat by the United Kingdom in the 1982 Falkland War and subsequent transition to civilian rule. Nuclear dilemmas the globe is facing in Argentina and Iran are unique unto themselves, says a US official at the Iran talks who asked not to be named. “We’ve always been weak in learning the lessons from other nuclear cases,” says the UK’s former ambassador to Iran, Richard Dalton. Without a blueprint to go by, “dealing with Iran is very difficult”. Iran says international nuclear markets cannot be trusted to supply the fuel it needs. World powers point to Iran’s inconsistent history on issues of nuclear transparency to argue for higher verification standards before Iran can be trusted to wield the technology. While touting promised access to more advanced nuclear technologies and the substantial economic benefits that a long- term accord would yield for Iran, the US official says the country should under no condition be allowed to mount industrial-scale enrichment for at least a decade. While Iran has mastered uranium-enrichment technology that can be used both to generate power and build weapons, it is contractually bound until 2022 to buy highprecision fuel for its sole nuclear plant in Bushehr from Russia’s state-owned Rosatom. Global nuclear vendors such as Rosatom, Areva and Toshiba’s Westinghouse Electric make money not only by selling reactors but also by supplying the complex low-enriched-uranium fuel assemblies that power them. After cracking the enrichment code in the 1980s, Argentina decided to forgo immediate expansion to industrial- scale enrichment, opting to concentrate resources on developing intellectual property around research reactors and fuel design, Mr Grossi says. “The strategy paid off and turned Argentina into a credible middlesize actor in the nuclear market with a clear niche and a growing capacity,” says Mr Grossi, who also negotiated with Iran as a former IAEA diplomat.
Argentina has sold, built and serviced reactors in Algeria, Australia, Egypt and Peru. Iran awarded Argentina a contract to modify its Tehran Research Reactor in 1987.
Frank von Hippel, a Princeton University physicist who has been advising US nuclear policymakers for three decades, says negotiators risk missing another opportunity with Iran if they do not start paying attention to historical precedents.
“Uranium enrichment is a generic problem, it’s not an Iranian problem,” says Mr von Hippel. “It’s been recognised since 1946 as a dangerous technology. The Iran issue is more about national pride and not wanting to get gouged on prices by the Russians.”
When production begins at Argentina’s Pilcaniyeu enrichment facility, 60km outside Bariloche, it will use the gaseous diffusion enrichment technology that had been exclusively used to manufacture nuclear weapons when it was built.
That should not necessarily worry the international community, according to William Miller, the US diplomat appointed by the US president Jimmy Carter who was set to become America’s new ambassador to Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution intervened. Just as Argentina’s government transitioned from military to civilian rule, the nature of the Iranian regime has changed too, he says.
“Iran has developed from a revolutionary society into a stable democratic theocracy.”
The surprise revelation of Argentina’s enrichment programme was one of history’s most “startling and dismaying failures of intelligence gathering”, according to a report published by the US department energy. The threat of potential similar intelligence failures in Iran is driving concern among policy makers who want to prevent a secret Iranian breakout from its commitments and a race to nuclear weapons. Amid the clamour around the Iranian nuclear programme, world powers are learning how to regulate adversarial entry into the global enrichment-services market, says Mr von Hippel, who was a science and technology adviser to the US president Bill Clinton.
“We shouldn’t let this kind of opportunity go to waste,” he says.
Across the world, the contentious debate over the future of nuclear power continues apace. In East Asia, for instance, it emerged earlier this month that a nuclear plant in Taiwan may have been leaking radioactive water for three years. Meanwhile, Japan is still struggling to contain radioactive water from Fukushima, and in South Korea prosecutors are conducting a huge investigation into forged nuclear safety certificates.
The old controversies over nuclear reactors – their dangers, benefits and costs – remain at the fore. But as politicians, energy experts and the general public weigh the pros and cons, one key element in harnessing energy from the atom is being neglected.
That is, the link between the different methods of producing nuclear power and the nature – and longevity – of the radioactive waste that each method leaves behind. This in turn raises the issue of intergenerational justice: the technical choices we make today will determine the extent of the burden humanity will face in containing contaminated byproducts that can remain radioactive for thousands of years.
While an increasing number of states are being swayed by the fact that nuclear power can enhance domestic energy security, produce large amounts of energy, and emit very low greenhouse gas byproducts, critics nonetheless remain vociferous. They cite the risk of reactor accidents, the dangers of transporting nuclear fuel and fears of proliferation, and the vexing problem of how to deal with the long-lived nuclear waste.
However, what is most striking is the “missing nuclear debate.” Little is said about the major distinctions between the various production methods, or nuclear fuel cycles. Rather than reducing nuclear power to a simple yes/no, good/bad dichotomy, we need to focus first on the advantages and disadvantages of each nuclear energy production method, including the burdens and benefits they pose now and in generations to come. ONE OF the key differentiating features between the various production methods is the nature of waste that is produced after irradiating fuel in a reactor. In the so-called open fuel cycle (common in countries including the United States and Sweden) spent fuel is generally disposed of as waste that will remain radioactive for 200,000 years.
In the alternative, known as the closed fuel cycle, spent fuel is reprocessed in order to extract the redeployable uranium and plutonium, which are then re-entered into the fuel cycle. In the closed fuel cycle, the lifetime of radioactive waste is reduced to about 10,000 years.
Approached from the framework of intergenerational justice, there is a strong case for arguing that people living today should deal with the burdens of nuclear power because we enjoy the lion’s share of benefits. Thus, from a moral point of view, if we want to keep developing nuclear power, the closed fuel cycle is preferable because it reduces radioactive lifetime of waste and the burdens on future generations.
However, the closed cycle brings about another intergenerational dilemma. In order to reduce concern for future generations, we will create short-term safety, security and economic burdens for people currently alive.
Nuclear reprocessing itself is a complex and costly chemical process. More importantly, the plutonium separated during reprocessing in the closed cycle method raises the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons.
A nuclear weapon with the yield of the Nagasaki bomb could be manufactured with a couple of kilograms of plutonium. Even though civilian plutonium emanating from energy reactors is not weapongrade and directly usable for a bomb, it still has some destructive powers.
We need to ensure that promoting the closed cycle method does not spread even more nuclear weapons. While new members of the IAEA have the right to pursue the closed fuel cycle for civil purposes, promoting this cycle poses serious international challenges.
A notable example here is Iran, which insists on reprocessing spent fuel of its single reactor in Bushehr. Serious technological and policy attempts are being made to limit the dangers of proliferation in reprocessing.
But there is an even better prospect for easing the future burden: the development of socalled fast reactors capable of reducing the lifetime of radioactive waste to a couple of hundred years. This involves the development of extended closed fuel cycles based on multiple recycling and new reactor technology. This method, referred to as Partitioning and Transmutation (P&T) has been scientifically proven but may require decades of development before it can be practically applied. Nonetheless, P&T represents a potential breakthrough that could genuinely transform the debate.
Several countries that use nuclear power on a large scale, including China, have decided to build more reactors. Moreover, smaller members of the nuclear energy club with longstanding reservations over future expansion, such as Switzerland, are now re-evaluating their stance. Meanwhile, there is a growing push elsewhere in the world toward the adoption of nuclear energy.
The IAEA estimates that around 50 countries will have nuclear reactors by 2030 – up from 29 today. If these projections are borne out, the 432 nuclear reactors currently operable around the world will be joined by more than 500 others within the next few decades.
This trend doesn’t make the debate about nuclear any less contentious. The polarization of the debate illustrates why the development of new fuel cycles like P&T technology should move to the fore of nuclear energy policy considerations, alongside greater discussion of the pros and cons of the open fuel and closed fuel cycle models.
The debate needs to become more enlightened and inclusive of future technological prospects – and more reflective of the quest for intergenerational justice. It is only on those terms that we can compare nuclear with other energies, such as coal, which can help us answer the thorny question of whether nuclear power has a role to play in the future energy mix and combating climate change.
The writer is an assistant professor of philosophy at the Delft University of Technology who concentrates on issues of ethics and nuclear power.
The consultation process launched by the Alberta government to determine if a nuclear power plant should be built in the Peace River area appears designed to dampen any opposition to the plan.
The Alberta nuclear consultation survey is cleverly formulated to intimidate all those without a scientific background, for example, asking the responders if they can explain the details of Alberta’s electricity system or nuclear energy to others. The responder is asked to affirm whether or not: “I was very familiar with the history of nuclear use in Canada.” In other words, if you don’t have a technical background, is your opinion worth much? Whybother to proceed if you’re not an expert?
It is not so much the technical feasibility of bringing nuclear power to Alberta that needs to be examined and commented upon, but the political, economic and ethical wisdom of such a move.
Downplaying the negatives
The report of the nuclear power expert panel and the government’s subsequent workbook downplay the risk of nuclear accidents, the staggering costs to taxpayers of nuclear power, the link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and the immense new potential of alternate sources of energy.
These are the questions that need open debate at public forums around the province.
The inauguration of a nuclear reactor would profoundly affect the lives of Albertans over the next 50 years. The peaceful use of nuclear energy calls for great efforts to protect both people and the environment and to answer all legitimate questions about the future of the planet.
The debate should not be limited to stakeholder groups out of the media spotlight, nor separated from the international debate already taking place on the future of nuclear power.
The problems surrounding nuclear power lead me to the view that the Peace River reactor should not be proceeded with. Is my opinion to be discounted if I check this box, “I have some understanding of Alberta’s electricity system but not sure of the details”?
Far more important is a debate over the ethics and practicality of introducing nuclear power into Alberta, enabling the public to concentrate on the best ways to promote sustainable development that protects the environment.
Through my work for many years at the United Nations on nuclear issues, I am very conscious that the non-proliferation treaty of four decades ago granted countries the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
But a new era of alternative energy has opened up since then, and in- deed, world leaders at the UN’s 60th anniversary summit in 2005 agreed to “promote innovation, clean energy and energy efficiency and conservation.”
At the very least, it is now incumbent on the proponents of nuclear power to make their case in the light of growing doubts about the wisdom of further investment in nuclear power. A new study by the Pembina Institute found Alberta could go from producing more than 70 per cent of its electricity from coal to 70 per cent from clean energy sources in just 20 years, based on existing technology and rates of deployment already seen in other jurisdictions.
Using proven renewable energy technologies, combined with industrial co-generation and a serious commitment to improved consump- tion efficiency, Alberta could satisfy its growing demand for power while dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful environmental impacts.
The Pembina Institute says Alberta does not need a single new coalfired or nuclear power plant, even if its demand for power doubles in the next 20 years.
That is the kind of statement that now needs open public examination.
For every argument that nuclear power is entering a “renaissance,” there is another that it is headed for obsolescence.
Enough renewable energy
Sixty years after the dawn of the nuclear age, the world is entering a new age when renewable energy shows signs of being able to surpass both fossil fuels and nuclear power in meeting the energy demands of a growing population.
A new International Renewable Energy Agency is already taking shape, and the number of countries investing in renewable rather than nuclear energy is growing.
At this turning point in history, when unstable oil prices, global warming, finite resources, and nuclear dangers all intersect, the world faces a crisis of how to meet rising en- ergy needs in a sustainable manner and without further despoiling the environment.
Can’t ordinary people have a legitimate view on this?
The proponents of nuclear power claim that it is environment-friendly because it produces electricity with almost no greenhouse gas emission. But opponents affirm that this is not true.
Shouldn’t we also publicly debate the risks attached to nuclear power: the link between the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear weapons proliferation, reactor accidents (Chornobyl and Three Mile Island are examples), and the failure of science so far to devise an acceptable means for the disposal of nuclear waste.
Though the risk of accidents, earthquakes or terrorist attacks on nuclear reactors may appear small, the consequences of a misstep are very large.
The public needs to be informed about this and empowered to speak out without rejection by experts, many of whom are hardly objective.
The need for water
A key ethical question needing examination is the use of water.
All nuclear power plants must be situated beside a major supply of cooling water. Already, the oilsands — the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada — requires up to two million barrels of water per day from the Athabasca River to produce one million barrels of oil.
Because climate change has already begun to leave a dramatic mark on the Canadian Rockies through recession of the Alberta Glacier, a recession of volume flows of water is occurring. In short, the oilsands are draining the Athabasca River and contributing to global warming at the same time. Let us debate this point.
In addition, oilsands tailings ponds are despoiling the environment, and the aboriginal population of the area is experiencing declines in ecoresources related to the supply of water in the Athabasca River.
The legitimate requirements of aboriginal peoples must be taken into consideration before further development of the oilsands proceeds. This is one more reason to at least question the ethics of introducing nuclear power, which will speed up the extraction of oil, with unknown consequences to aboriginal peoples.
The issue of nuclear waste must also be dealt with.
Nuclear power production in Canada already produces approximately 85,000 highly radioactive waste fuel bundles each year, along with 500,000 tonnes or more of toxic and radioactive mine tailings (wastes left after uranium extraction).
In fact, each stage of the nuclear energy production process generates large volumes of uniquely hard-tomanage wastes — wastes that in many cases will require care for hundreds of thousands of years.
Currently, no approved long-term plan for the management of these wastes exists in Canada.
The public needs to be alerted to the history of failures in storage facilities for uranium mine tailings in Canada and elsewhere. The problems these waste streams can lead to, including severe contamination of surface water and groundwater with radioactive and conventionally toxic pollutants need to be brought out into the open.
Is it ethical to take the risk of introducing nuclear power into Alberta at the very moment when science has uncovered ways to meet energy needs without such risk?
Let’s debate the efficacy of nuclear power without fear or intimidation.
THE N-word was once taboo in debates on Australia’s future energy sources. Nuclear power was considered risky, dangerous and responsible for the production of radioactive waste that remains toxic for thousands of years.
Suddenly, nuclear has gone from fringe to mainstream as countries around the world search for an answer to climate change and dwindling coal supplies.
Public opinion is shifting and this week came a push from within the Labor Party for a serious debate on atomic energy in Australia.
Far from risky, dangerous and toxic, proponents say nuclear power is safe, clean and cost-efficient.
An Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering report released yesterday argued nuclear power could become financially viable in Australia within 20 years.
Report author Dr John Burgess said nuclear power had two key benefits – continuous output and no carbon emissions.
‘‘So compared to some of the other technologies it looks quite favourable financially at that time when the carbon price is climbing up to $80 a tonne in about 2030,’’ he said.
Public opinion also appears to be shifting on the nuclear debate.
In 1979, McNair Gallup poll found 34 per cent of Australians supported the construction of nuclear power stations in Australia, while 56 per cent opposed it.
Last year, the same poll found about half (49 per cent) support nuclear power in Australia, while 43 per cent oppose it.
But Federal Greens leader Bob Brown said yesterday while a majority of Australians might support nuclear power, it was too expensive and would be damaging to the environment.
‘‘The opinion polls show there may be a majority of Australians who would back nuclear power, but there’s a vast majority who don’t want it in their backyard,’’ he said.
In that climate, a clutch of Right- faction senators want the merits of nuclear power debated within the context of climate change at the Labor Party’s convention next year.
Their motives are at least threefold: First, there’s a strong element of tit-for-tat in their call. The Right is angry at the re-emergence of the gay marriage debate which is now listed on the conference agenda scheduled for late next year.
It views the issue as a boutique one affecting a minority, and one which leaves the ALP open to the charge it is in thrall to an inner-city Greens agenda.
This in turn gives rise to their second motive for raising the nuclear debate right now: to wedge the Greens politically. Labor MPs have long been incensed by what many see as a gaping hole in greenpolitics; the blindspot over nuclear.
Why, they ask, has the environment lobby been allowed to get away with simply refusing to dis- cuss nuclear power given the zeal with which it has lectured the rest of us about global warming?
Why, they wonder, is the science treated as infallible on global warming but able to be readily ignored on the safety and efficiency of nuclear power?
The third reason is the need for a genuine debate.
Ms Gillard has nominated 2011 as the year of decision and delivery on climate policy. Yet nuclear advocates point out their option has not been S properly considered. EVERAL key people in the ALP including the Left’s (Resources and Energy Minister) Martin Ferguson, support nuclear power.
Still more accept that there is merit in the debate.
They point to the fact that Australia is a major supplier of uranium to other countries and that SA’s Olympic Dam operation is the largest uranium mine in the world. If it is good enough to mine uranium and sell it to others, they ask, why is discussion of using it domestically off limits?
It is difficult to say whether the debate over nuclear will play a role in the Government’s decisionmaking over a carbon price next year. But there is no doubt the two things are related politically and economically.
When then prime minister John Howard re-opened the argument during his last term, commissioning former Telstra boss and nuclear physicist Ziggy Switkowski to examine the issue, he inadvertently handed Labor an electoral gift. Dr Switkowski concluded that nuclear power could provide Australia with up to a third of its baseload electricity with 25 state-of-the-art nuclear reactors by 2050.
By definition, because such facilities need to be located near water supplies and proximal to but not in major urban centres, this suggested a series of reactors up and down the eastern seaboard.
In the subsequent election, Labor had a field day demanding that the Government stipulate where – in which electorates – any nuclear reactors would be located.
In key seats like Richmond in northern NSW, the issue guaranteed a Labor victory after the party ran hard in local newspapers and other media putting the frighteners on a unsuspecting voters.
The strategy worked a treat. But now in office, advocates of a mature nuclear energy debate see a new opportunity arising from a supportive Opposition and a Government that just may be inclined to listen to reason.
The ensuing policy argument will test Ms Gillard’s resolve and stretch her commitment to allowing open debate by her MPs. She has already opined that a change in Labor’s antinuclear policy is unlikely but she also knows there would be costs to her credibility if she shuts the debate down.
At present, sources say, if the question were asked of Right faction members, there would probably be a majority in favour of at the very least, an open debate. Many would promote nuclear as the answer to the climate change puzzle.
But within the Left, Ms Gillard’s own base, the stance remains one of steadfast opposition.
‘‘The Labor Party’s got a very clear policy here, and it’s a really long-standing policy of opposition to nuclear power,’’ Ms Gillard told 3AW yesterday.
‘‘Now, we will have our national conference at the end of next year . . . I’d have to say anybody who’s arguing to overturn our longstanding policy is setting themselves up for a pretty tough argument, but I’m not going to be there saying to people ‘don’t come and put your view.’ We’re a party of ideas. It’s good to have debates, and we’ll have a few at national conference.’’
The words say yes to a debate but everything else suggests, as Margaret Thatcher once said, ‘‘the lady is not for turning’’.
Tokyo ( Reuters) Can Japan afford to go nuclear-powerfree? The country’s atomic power industry and many big business clients say “ No”, arguing the step would boost electricity bills and pollution and hasten the hollowing out of Japanese manufacturing.
But the Fukushima nuclear disaster is galvanising a coalition of safety-conscious voters and future-minded companieswho increasingly believe that Japan cannot afford to stick with the status quo if it wants to be globally competitive.
“ Japan has a span of about a year to assert itself as a clear leader in clean energy, storage batteries, solar cells. They can compete, but they are no longer the only guys in the global game,” said Jesper Koll, director of equities research at JPMorgan in Tokyo.
“ This is where government policy helps — it can create a domestic market that is captive and rich and creates jobs and puts Japan on the map as a global leader.”
To be sure, short-term economic pain is in store if utilities, faced with deep public mistrust after the world’s worst radiation accident in 25 years, are unable to restart reactors taken off-line for checks.
“ We will have real pain for the next one to two years due to the holes opened up by the lack of nuclear energy,” said Martin Schulz, an economist at Fujitsu Research Institute.
“ But the pain is there because of what was done in the past. The moment you focus on future opportunities, it’s not so painful anymore.”
Even nuclear power proponents acknowledge that their dream of supplying
Martin Schulz Economist at Fujitsu Research
more than 50 per cent of electricity from atomic energy by 2030, up fromabout 30 per cent before Fukushima, has been dimmed by the radiation disaster.
More than 70 per cent of voters in a Kyodo news agency survey published on Sunday supported Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s call last month for a future free of dependence on nuclear power.
The vision has sent shivers through the nexus of political, business and bureaucratic interests dubbed Japan’s “ nuclear village”, which has responded with dire warnings.
“ If we completely abandon nuclear power generation ... I think most industries would lose competitiveness and go out of Japan,” Masakazu Toyoda, chairman of the quasi-government Institute of Energy Economics, said.
“ But 50 per cent might be too much. Twenty-five or 30 per cent might be digestible.”
Kan has promised a blankslate review of the 2010 national energy plan and vowed to promote renewable sources such as wind and power with a lawthatwould require utilities to buy electricity from a wide range of sources through generous feed-in-tariffs — subsidies paid by end-users.
The debate about solar vs. nuclear energy is heating up.
All the pros and cons are being brought up by those who claim to know what they are talking about, and the man in the street simply follows what's being told, lacking knowledge about and interest in the subject. Their sole concern seems to be whether they will be able to watch tonight's football game.
It's being said that nuclear energy is safe, but Fukushima and Chernobyl showed a different picture. The fact that nobody has yet found a solution to treat the waste produced by a nuclear plant makes it clear that this cannot be a clean process.
Solar energy, on the other hand, still requires an enormous amount of space, and produces no energy in the dark.
Depending on the need for energy makes us vulnerable, so choosing an energy for the next century should also include the question: Whom do I trust?
Nuclear and fossil energy cannot be produced on a small scale yet, since safety issues are there to consider and overcoming those drives the price up. Solar and wind energy can be produced on a small scale making us free from the shackles of governments and energy companies.
If we are thinking about renewable energy sources, shouldn't we also think about renewable societies? When we keep thinking in terms of us against them, we will never make a step ahead, and will continue to quarrel over these items in the years ahead.
Everything to fulfill our needs is already there. We only need to connect it, by trusting our fellow world citizens. To me it seems that our increasing need for energy goes hand in hand with our increasing greed and materialism. I'm not saying that we should go back to living in caves and giving up all we achieved, but some awareness that happiness does not come from consumption might ease the problem. Whatever choice is made, let it be clear that the benefit will be ours, and that the problems to solve will be for our children.