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EU seeking greener energy but nuclear option fuels dissent

by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Jan 21, 2008
The European Commission will on Wednesday unveil detailed plans to slash greenhouse gases by 2020, with the focus on renewable fuels and emissions trading, despite French attempts to push the nuclear option.

France has recently been joined by Britain at the forefront of the pro-nuclear lobby, extolling it as a more reliable, less polluting fuel supply which cuts down on Europe's huge dependence on Russia and the Middle East for increasingly scarce and expensive fossil fuels.

However the anti-nuclear camp has only to mention the nuclear plant disasters of Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), plus the long-term issue of radioactive waste storage, to raise the public alarm levels.

Nuclear power is certainly not among the EU's key list of clean, renewable energy sources central to Wednesday's package.

Last year EU leaders agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020, against 1990 levels in a bid to tackle global warming.

The leaders also set a binding target for renewable energy -- wind, wave, solar -- to provide 20 percent of Europe's needs by 2020, compared to 8.5 percent currently.

The Commission will this week set out individual goals for the 27 member states in order to achieve the overall cuts, including proposals to bolster emissions trading.

France, which derives over 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, has in the past pleaded in vain for quotas to be drawn up for "low carbon emitting energies" -- a category in which nuclear power could be front and centre.

Paris is not alone in blowing the nuclear trumpet. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report European utilities, including Germany's E.ON as well as France's EDF, rank nuclear as the most likely technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the energy sector by 2017.

Industry officials are promoting third-generation pressurized water reactors which provide greater energy, improved security and reduced waste compared to earlier versions of nuclear reactors.

Earlier this month the British government approved a new generation of nuclear power stations, against a backdrop of oil prices hitting 100 dollars a barrel.

"This announcement is aimed at securing energy supplies as well as tackling climate change," a British department for business spokesman told AFP.

Britain is looking beyond 2020 and is seeking to "decarbonise our energy sources" by 2050, he added.

Britain's governing Labour Party had called nuclear power an "unattractive" option as late as 2003. Environmental campaigners Greenpeace have certainly not changed their tune.

"The conclusion we draw is that, for climate change, nuclear power does too little, too late against too high costs," Greenpeace's EU policy campaigner on nuclear issues, Jan Haverkamb, told AFP.

He added that another by-product of a nuclear policy was that countries lose the incentive to seek alternative solutions to the environmental problem.

Last September Brussels set up a reflection group on nuclear energy. However a senior official with the European Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- believes that broad agreement within the EU on the merits of nuclear energy was not a realistic prospect for decades to come.

While French President Nicolas Sarkozy has described nuclear power as the "energy of the future" and Britain has renewed its enthusiasm, Germany has decided to shut down all its reactors by 2020 while Italy abandoned nuclear power in 1987.

Currently nuclear power produces around a third of Europe's electricity, with 15 of the 27 member states producing it.

"It is not the EU's role to decide if they (EU nations) should or should not use nuclear power," EU Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said last year.

Many agree that, regardless of what the scientists say, the nuclear decision remains largely political and economic rather than technical.

Greenpeace's Haverkamb also stresses the security aspect, citing the global threat of nuclear arms proliferation.

"In all the politically unstable areas of the world proliferation is a real concern... North Korea and Iran got (capability to build the bomb) on the back of civil nuclear technology".

That's certainly not an accusation that can be levelled at wind turbines or solar panels, he adds.

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India to stand up to Brown on climate change
New Delhi (AFP) Jan 19, 2008
India will put aside differences with Britain over cutting carbon emissions to pursue closer ties in trade, education and counter-terrorism during a state visit by Prime Minister Gordon Brown starting Sunday, officials said.

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