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    Nuclear key to greenhouse
    By Robert Gottliebsen
    31jan05

    BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair believes global carbon emissions can be slashed without a substantial fall in living standards and at the World Economic Forum dedicated himself to achieving that goal.

    But as the forum proceeded it was clear that Blair would fail without nuclear power. That means that Australia, with one third of the world's uranium, will have a key role in helping the Chinese, Indians and others move to nuclear energy as well as erecting coal power stations that can be adapted to better technology.
    When Blair made his impassioned greenhouse plea to the forum he did not mention nuclear energy, but his adviser David King - the man who has convinced him that London and other waterside cities have much more to fear from higher sea levels than terrorism - delivered a special message to Australia.

    Sir David confirmed that nuclear power would have to play a role. But British officials in private briefings went much further, saying that in the next 20 years no other technology was currently available to make the required drastic cuts in emissions.

    The friendship between John Howard, Tony Blair and George W. Bush, which was forged over Iraq, might be directed towards emissions, assuming Blair is re-elected as Britain's Prime Minister.









    And so at the WEF when Australia was blasted during informal sessions, (including some tough words from Australian citizens who believe we should have signed Kyoto), British officials stood up for Australia. They often silenced the critics by saying that while Australia had not signed the Kyoto accord it was meeting its obligations and if it did sign it, it would not be affected.

    But there was disbelief that Australia was considering selling control of one of its most vital weapons to help global carbon emissions to a group controlled by Swiss commodity traders who had made their money using Swiss neutrality to break the embargoes on South Africa, Cuba and Iran. The traders are under US investigation for possible breaches of the Iraq embargoes.

    Why has Blair become so convinced about greenhouse and its threat to the world? First, he has been shown that analysing the Antarctic ice enables carbon content in the atmosphere to be calculated over the past million years.

    Apart from the current century, during the ice ages the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere reached 200 parts per million, while during hotter times it hit 270 parts per million. It is now at 379 parts per million and rising rapidly.

    On present trends, the figure will reach 1000 parts per million before the first half of the century is out. All the models have shown that if that happens then London and other low-lying cities can not be saved. But if carbon levels are kept below 500 then, with extensive engineering, the larger cities can be protected.

    Already the Antarctic has begun melting, but what is alarming the British is that the Greenland ice is melting at a rate that is far quicker than their models had predicted. Chinese glaciers too are disappearing at a startling rate.

    The British models show the immediate danger to be the effect it will have on Indian monsoons - a 10 per cent fall in monsoonal rain can cause devastating droughts while a similar rise can cause destructive floods.

    In Australia, our largest insurance company, Insurance Australia Group, sacrifices profit by reinsuring its risk on Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast properties that have not been built to withstand cyclones. IAG believes global warming will send cyclones south.

    The Japanese are alarmed at the number of hurricanes that hit them last year.

    But the British models do not conclusively link global warming to cyclone activity although they say it is possible.

    Apart from greater use of nuclear technology, the British say there are other essential activities that also need to be undertaken, including using hybrid cars (Toyota admits they completely underestimated the demand and there are long waiting lists in the US and Europe); making industry and homes much more energy efficient; using more wind, solar and hydro power and helping developing countries to do the same.

    At the same time research into technologies other than nuclear needs to be accelerated. These activities, plus the coastal city protection, may be the growth industries of the next decade.

    But if the community relied on these measures alone there would be massive unemployment and Blair says the community would then do nothing about it.

    Nuclear waste and the risks in the technology are clearly major issues but, according to the British, they are dramatically outweighed by the risks of global warming.

    As the dominant uranium producers, Australia and Canada will be required to take key roles in promoting safeguards. Never before in Australian history have we had the dominant share of a commodity that, at least in the eyes of the British, is essential to save many of the world's coastal cities and countries such as India from largescale destruction.



 
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