Opinion: Ban nuclear energy

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Margaret G -

"The majority of people in Japan were opposed to nuclear power following the Fukushima crisis."

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Ja­pan to de­bate en­ergy strat­egy

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 reg­u­la­tor’s 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 Ja­pan’s 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 will be cen­tral in de­bate on nu­clear power

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.

‘Do not re­sume Ja­panese fish im­ports’

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.

Al­berta boom hits pause but­ton

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. glam­phier@ed­mon­ton­jour­nal.com

False prom­ise of nu­clear power

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. Fukushima’s im­pact 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. One- sided 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.)

U.S., Iran press nu­clear talks

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.

Su­per­sti­tion: Nu­clear power vs. coal

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.

Ar­gentina set for nu­clear growth

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.

Key ‘miss­ing’ de­bate over fu­ture of nu­clear en­ergy is waste stor­age

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.

An open, hon­est nu­clear de­bate

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. Nu­clear waste 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.

Nu­clear con­sen­sus

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’’.

Ja­pan de­bates giv­ing up nu­clear en­ergy

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.” Mis­trust 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 In­sti­tute 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.

So­lar vs. nu­clear en­ergy de­bate

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.

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