nuclear power energy

  1. 3,412 Posts.
    Saturday, October 08, 2005

    The nuclear power industry is quietly confident that the world is about to beat a path to its door in an increasingly desperate search for energy that does not heat the planet.

    Soaring oil prices and new data on global warming - brought into sharp focus by devastating hurricanes in the United States - have heated up the nuclear debate and outraged the environmental lobby, which says nuclear power is not the answer.

    China plans to invest some US$50 billion (HK$390 billion) to build around 30 new nuclear reactors by 2020, there are investment incentives in the US, and nuclear power was back on the Group of Eight summit agenda in July.

    The nuclear industry now feels it is on a roll - 20 years after an explosion at the Chernobyl reactor spread a cloud of radioactivity over Europe and dealt a severe blow to the reputation of a sector denounced by environmentalists.

    "Nuclear power is in the ascendant worldwide," said Ian Hore-Lacy of the World Nuclear Association, which aims to promote nuclear power as a sustainable resource. It is less so in Britain, he added, "but that will change."

    Last week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged a review of the country's climate change commitments, which he said must include looking at the nuclear option.

    A few days later, a government minister said Britain must decide within a year whether to invest in a new wave of nuclear power generation.

    Scientists' warnings about warming have increased the pressure on rich nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

    Experts have said that Earth's temperature will rise by at least two degrees centigrade by the end of this century due to greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, putting millions of people at risk from floods and droughts.

    It is difficult to tell if global warming caused hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but scientists forecast more unpredictable weather as the world gets hotter.

    The nuclear debate has long stirred passions in Britain, home of one of the most intensively used nuclear sites in the world at Sellafield, northwestern England. In the late 1990s, Sellafield was in the firing line after a report criticized safety standards at the reprocessing plant.

    Now, workers understand the public relations challenge. "We have got to demonstrate that we can clean up the legacy of the past," said Tony Price, head of a program to handle waste. "That way we can show we can deal with the waste of the future."

    Waste has long been an industry black spot. The enriched uranium used in atomic reactors in nuclear plants is highly radioactive. Spent fuel remains hazardous for 100,000 years.

    The nuclear industry's most optimistic projection, from the WNA, sees global nuclear power capacity doubling to around 750 gigawatts over the next 25 years but its share of world electricity supply only edging up to 18 percent from 16 percent due to booming demand, expected to double between 1990 and 2020.

    "Between 2030 and 2050 you could see nuclear as a percentage of world electricity supply rising sharply," Hore- Lacy said. "It is not hard to envisage a scenario where nuclear could provide 50 percent of world electricity."

    Environmentalists say the true costs of nuclear power are three times those stated, that there is a risk of terrorists getting hold of deadly plutonium, and waste is a problem for the future.

    "A much more positive set of options are there," said Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth, citing a combination of energy efficiency, microgeneration, renewables, carbon capture, and more sustainable forms of transport.

    Greenpeace told the European Parliament last week that far from being the answer, nuclear power should be phased out. "To replace one environmental catastrophe - polluting fossil fuel power - with another environmental disaster - nuclear energy - is clearly not the answer," it said.

    Environmentalists want more use to be made of renewable energy like solar, wind and waves.

    The wind power industry says that by 2020 wind could provide 12 percent of the world's electricity, but it complains of administrative barriers. The argument for wind power is that it has no carbon emissions, employs many people, and is good for local economies. In Europe, Germany takes the lead with renewable energy sources supplying 10 percent of electricity. In France, nuclear power provides nearly 80 percent of electricity.

    In Britain, where Blair advocates tackling global warming, renewables provide only 3 percent of electricity with 19 percent coming from nuclear power. But plants are getting old, hence the need for a prompt decision on whether to build new ones. Hore-Lacy argues that the nuclear industry has high start-up costs but low running costs. REUTERS

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